What is autism

Autism is part of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). ASDs are developmental disorders that are characterized by deficits in verbal and non-verbal social communication (a) and social interaction (b) and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities (c) (APA, 2013). They may, also, exhibit sensory disturbance and Learning Difficulties. Autistic disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger Syndrome are all under the umbrella of ASD. Asperger’s syndrome usually refers to highly verbal, near-normal autistic child. The word Autism derives from the Greek word autós (αὐτός, meaning “self”) and “ism”, a word ending which refers to a state.

a. Social communication

People with autism:

  • Have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice,  jokes and sarcasm and facial expression of others.
  • Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say.
  • About 40% of children with autism do not speak. About 25%–30% of children with autism have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Others might speak, but not until later in childhood.
  • Autistic people will usually understand more of what other people say to them, than they are able to express.
  • Others may prefer to use alternative means of communication, such as sign language or visual symbols. Some autistic people are able to communicate very effectively without speech.
  • Other autistic people will have good language skills, but they may still find it hard to understand the expectations of others within conversations, perhaps repeating what the other person has just said (this is called echolalia) or talking at length about their own interests.
  • It helps if other people speak in a clear, consistent way and give people on the autism spectrum time to process what has been said to them.

b. Social Interaction

People with autism:

  • Often have difficulty guessing, recognising or understanding other people’s emotions, feelings and thoughts.
  • They may appear to behave ‘strangely’ or inappropriately, as it is not always easy for them to express feelings, emotions or needs, which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially.
  • Difficulties with social interaction can mean that people with autism find it hard to form friendships: some may want to interact with other people and make friends, but may be unsure how to do this.
  • They may have difficulties with Social imagination (which allows us to understand and predict other people’s behaviour). Difficulties with social imagination should not be confused with a lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative and may be, for example, accomplished artists, musicians or writers. 

c. Restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests

  • Repetitive behaviour in people with autism is not the same as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which is an anxiety disorder in which people experience repetitive thoughts and behaviours that are upsetting to them.
  • Repetitive behaviour may include arm- or hand-flapping, finger-flicking, rocking, jumping, spinning or twirling, head-banging and complex body movements.
  • They may also exhibit repetitive use of an object, such as flicking a rubber band or twirling a piece of string, or repetitive activities involving the senses (such as repeatedly feeling a particular texture).
  • These behaviours may provide structure, order and predictability, and help autistic people cope with the uncertainties of daily life, feel relaxed and happy.

Sensory disturbance

  • People with autism, can have difficulty with more than one sensory input at a time and thus they face difficulties with sounds, lights, smells and touch by others.
  • They can, also, have difficulty in coping.

Learning Difficulties

  • Autistic people may have Learning Difficulties, which affects all aspects of someone’s life, from studying in school, to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal.
  • People can have different ‘degrees‘ of learning disability, so some will be able to live fairly independently while others may require lifelong, specialist support.
  • However, all people with autism learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all autistic people can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.
  • Other conditions are sometimes associated with autism. These may include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or specific Learning Difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia.

What causes autism?

  • The cause of autism remains unknown. However, research suggests that a combination of factors – genetic and environmental – may account for differences in development.
  • Some studies suggest a neurological problem that affects those parts of the brain that process language and information provided by the senses.
  • Perhaps there is an imbalance of some specific neurochemicals in the brain. Genetic factors can sometimes be involved.
  • It has been shown that there is no causal link between the attitudes and actions of parents and the development of autism spectrum; it is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.

Prevalence & Comorbidity

  • The rate of autism has steadily grown over the last twenty years.
  • Its prevalence is not affected by race, nationality, region, or socio-economic status.
  • Autism is diagnosed 4 times more often in boys than girls.  It now affects 1 in 68 children.
  • Comorbid conditions often associated with autism include Fragile X, allergies, asthma, epilepsy, bowel disease, gastrointestinal/digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, PANDAS, feeding disorders, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, OCD, sensory integration dysfunction, sleeping disorders, immune disorders, autoimmune disorders, and neuroinflammation.

Is there a cure?

  • At present, there is no ‘cure’ for autism. However, there is a huge range of interventions of enabling learning and development of children with autism, such as behavioural, medical, developmental, family-based, therapy-based interventions, as well as combinations of them that have been tailored to the particular needs of the child.
  • For more information and everything you need to know about the types of interventions for children with ASD, you can visit the following website:
  • Most interventions are aimed at helping children with autism. While children with autism are not ‘curable’ they can be helped, especially if their autism is diagnosed early in life. Early identification helps specialists and parents to apply the right intervention as soon as possible. Thus, keep an eye out for early signs.
  • However, since autism is a ‘spectrum’ disorder it affects different people in different ways. It is therefore very difficult to generalise about how a person with autism will develop over time. It is particularly important to realise that an intervention which works well with one individual may not be appropriate or effective with another.

Signs and diagnosis

  • The image of children with autism does not differ from that of normal children, they look healthy and beautiful.
  • Parents often report that they began to worry around the second and before the third birthday of their children.
  • Signs that made them worry may be the lack of eye contact, strange reaction to hug and caress, delayed speech or insistence with objects, isolation, no interest in other children or playing with them.

Signs of autism 

Early signs of Autism in Babies


Some common symptoms of Autism in Toddlers (age 2 to 5 years)



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Autism-related Movies

Image of Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin (2010)
Temple Grandin is an autistic woman who revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and slaughterhouses. The film follows Temple Grandin’s life through a series of flashbacks.  (107 mins.)
Director: Mick Jackson

Image of Ο άνθρωπος της βροχής

Rain Man (1988)
Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt’s father left a fortune to his savant autistic brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country and start bonding. (133 mins.)
Director: Barry Levinson

Image of Touch
Touch (2012-2013 TV Series)
A widower struggling to raise his emotionally challenged son discovers that he can predict events before they happen. (43 mins.)


Image of Under the Piano

Under the Piano (1996)
An autistic child growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s with a mother who is bitter because her fear of success has denied to herself a possible career in opera. This anger translates into an over-protectiveness of her mentally ill daughter, even into the child’s adulthood. But a loving sister, herself having an arm that is paralyzed, is a bastion against the limitations imposed by the mother and finally helps her sister to live a more full life. (92 mins.)
Director: Stefan Scaini

Image of After Thomas
A true story about a couple’s struggles to meet the challenges of their son’s autism. (93 mins.)
Director: Simon Shore

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