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Irish Autism Action gives an insight into this ever increasing disorder…

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects the development of the brain in areas of social interaction and communication and is marked by severe difficulties in communicating and forming relationships with people, in developing language and in using abstract concepts. Characteristics include repetitive and limited patterns of behaviour and obsessive resistance to tiny changes in familiar surroundings or routines.

It is called by various classifications and terms you may have heard are Autistic Spectrum disorder- ASD, Aspergers syndrome – AS, Pervasive Development Disorder – PDD and PDD/NOS- Not Otherwise Specified. People with some form of the disorder are said to be ‘on the spectrum’.

Autism is often referred to as the ‘hidden’ disability because people who are on the autistic spectrum show no significant physical difference to their peers, rather it is their behaviours that mark them out as different. The 3 main areas of difficulty for people with autism are referred to as the ‘triad of impairments’.

  • Social communication – Difficulty in communicating with peers and others doesn’t understand reciprocity
  • Social interaction – difficulty understanding how to interact with peers and others appropriately
  • Social imagination – Deficits in flexible thinking regarding interests, routines, perspectives and rules

Although not included in the triad of impairments, there is a fourth area which has been identified as presenting people with autism with significant difficulties and that is the area of sensory processing. Sensory processing difficulties are indicated by either a hyper or hypo-sensitivity across any or all of the 5 senses.

The first signs of autism usually appear as developmental delays before the age of 3. Autism is described as a ‘spectrum’ disorder. This means that the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations and can range from mild to severe. Two children with the same diagnosis can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.

As stated above, the numbers of those diagnosed with autism is rising. In a recent briefing the National Autistic Society in the UK confirmed that the condition now affects 1 in 58 children. The prevalence study for Ireland is almost complete and the results will be announced shortly. Although it is widely maintained that the increase in incidence can, in part, be attributed to better diagnostic procedures, it is apparent that the condition itself is growing worldwide.

Research into autism and genetics has shown autism is genetically pre- determined however research is on-going to determine to what degree environmental ‘triggers’ may be involved in the increase in incidence. What we do know, in Ireland, is that the number of young children coming into the system each year is significantly greater than in the past and that the demand for services to meet the needs of this special population will continue to grow.


Quick Facts about Autism

People With Autism Are Different from One Another

If you’ve seen a TV show about autism, you may think you know what autism “looks like.” However, when you’ve met one person with with autism you’ve met ONE person with autism. Some people with autism are chatty; others are silent. Many have sensory issues, sleep difficulties, language delays and other medical problems. Others may have social-communication delays – and that’s it. There is no ‘one type’ of Autism.

Up to date data on the prevalence of autism in Ireland is not available.

However, Irish Autism Action is funding a study that will determine the number of people in Ireland who are on the autistic spectrum. The study is being undertaken by researchers in Dublin City University under the direction of specialist epidemiologist Prof Anthony Staines. This study started in 2009 and is expected to result in a 1 in 100 result.

Some signs to look out for that your child may have ASD from birth to 18 months include:

•Feeding Problems, such as poor sucking.
•Apathetic and unresponsive – showing no desire to be held or cuddled.
•Constant crying, or an unusual absence of crying.
•Disinterest in people and surroundings.
•Unusual fear of strangers
•Repetitive movements, such as hand shaking, prolonged rocking and spinning, and head banging.
•Obsessive interest in certain toys or mechanical appliances.
•Insistence on being left alone and that physical environment remain unchanged.
•Sleeping problems.

18 Months to 2 Years:

  • Difficulties in toilet training.
  • Odd eating habits and preferences.
  • Late speech, no speech or loss of previously acquired speech.

After 2 Years:

  • Continued aphasics or unusual speech pattern, such as repeating word and phrases, failure to use “I” or “Yes”.

Autism is not a mental illness.

Autism is not caused by ‘ refrigerator mothers’ who either consciously or subconsciously reject their children, nor is it caused by bad parenting.

There is no cure.

Autism is a lifelong condition, and there is no “cure”. With early diagnosis and special education, children with autism will be able to improve their social and communication skills.

Genetic predisposition

If one identical twin is diagnosed with autism, the other twin has about 90% chance of develop an autistic disorder.


There is no blood test, no scan, and no image that can detect autism. Diagnosis relies on behavioral observation and screening.

Its more common than you may think

Approximately 67 million people worldwide are affected by autism


Many children with autism have a reduced sensitivity to pain but may be extra sensitive to sound, touch, or other sensory stimulation—which may contribute to a reluctance to being cuddled or hugged.


Dogs have been shown to improve autistic children’s quality of life, independence, and safety. The presence of a trained dog can reduce aggressive behavior, calm the child, and serve as a link to the child’s community. This is why some people seek the assistance of Autism Dogs, dogs specifically trained to assist children/adults with ASD.

Rain Man

“Rain Man” is the most famous movie in the last thirty years that addresses autism in adults and what institutional life was like for them. There are some very solid truths about the disorder in the movie that got everyone thinking about it.

Physical attriutes

Autism doesn’t have “a look”. Perfectly ‘normal’ looking children can have autism.


Children, teens and adults with autism are very creative and find a passion and talent for music, theater, art, dance and singing quite easily.