What is Autism?

Those of us on the autistic spectrum have a brain structure that is physically different to other people; we are often described as being “differently wired” in neurological terms. Autism is characterised by a range of issues, the most significant being difficulty with “normal” social interaction; we don’t have the connections in our brains to let us instinctively understand people in the way others do. There are many other ways in which autistic people are affected (e.g. need for routine, sensory issues, etc.), but not every issue affects every person, and it’s important to understand that autistic people are as different from each other as you are different from anyone else.

Autism does not cause people to be dangerous, evil, or criminally minded; in fact for the most part we are predisposed to be gentle and kind. Tony Attwood, probably the world’s leading expert on Asperger’s (a form of autism), describes those with the syndrome as “some of the kindest and most caring people I know.” The word “empathy” when used by psychologists has a very specific medical meaning; so when the medics say we “lack empathy” this is not the same meaning for “empathy” as used in everyday language. Autistic people are often highly empathetic, and many of us work extremely hard to overcome our social difficulties, and conform in a way that makes us socially agreeable to others. Despite this, it is not uncommon for autistic people to suffer lifelong bullying and abuse.

Autism is not a mental illness, and is not caused by bad parenting, vaccines, diet, pesticides, or pollution. It is genetic in origin, meaning that we are born with it, and there is no “cure” (any more than there is a cure for having brown eyes). However, there are many therapies that help with developmental issues in both children and adults, and many autistic adults are able to develop coping strategies to manage the varying challenges of everyday life.

The autistic spectrum is so called, because no two autistic people are the same. There is, however, a broad distinction between what is referred to as high-functioning autism (those us who can “act” normal) and low-functioning autism (those who need day-to-day care), but the line between the two is very blurred, and no form of autism can ever be considered “mild”.

©Leigh Forbes

Related Content
» Think you might have Asperger’s syndrome?”
Asperger’s in Women
» Bullying & Abuse
» It’s Okay to Want a Diagnosis!”
» Symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome
» The Triad of Impairments (in real terms)
» Diagnosis Stories


4 thoughts on “What is Autism?”

  1. oops,
    I said there was no genes identified that are connected to autism yet but I was wrong. Just reading about it now.
    Guess I am out of the loop so to speak.

  2. While I agree that there is a genetic component to autism, I have yet to read of an identified chromosome or marker. In the meantime, to say that
    “autism is not caused by vaccines, pesticides or pollution” is very presumptuous considering the many studies that have been done on the relation of autism and epigenetics.
    Here is an article about a study on identical twins with either different forms of autism, or only one twin has autism. I have read other studies as well, but will only post one link:

    It is well known that toxins and pollutants of many kinds from many sources can impact our genetic expression, not just in the instance of autism, but also when it comes to things like cancer. For example, having a genetic marker for breast cancer does not guarantee you will get breast cancer, however it increases your chances of getting cancer. Environmental stimulants can then affect the expression of that gene.

  3. Instead of using the word empathy, here in Northern Ireland most people now talik about people with asd lacking “theory of mind” which is much less scary sounding.

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