What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

An Autism Spectrum Disorders is a life-long developmental disability affecting social and communication skills. People with the disability can also have accompanying learning disabilities; but, whatever their general level of intelligence, everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world.

Because of the differing degrees of severity and variety of manifestations, the term Autism Spectrum Disorder is often used to describe the whole range.

This term includes Asperger syndrome, which is a form of autism at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. People with Asperger syndrome are of average (or higher) intelligence and generally have fewer problems with language, often speaking fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal and ideas which are abstract, metaphorical or idiomatic may cause confusion and be taken literally. Unlike individuals with 'classic' autism, who often appear withdrawn and uninterested in the world around them, many people with Asperger syndrome try hard to be sociable and do not dislike human contact. However, they still find it hard to understand non-verbal signals, including facial expressions.
"Classic" autism affects four times as many boys as girls; Asperger syndrome affects nine times as many boys as girls. It is found among all races, nationalities, and social classes.

Can people with autism spectrum disorders be helped?

An autism spectrum disorder is a life-long disability, but there are ways of helping, especially if a child is diagnosed early and receives appropriate intervention early in life.

Special education programmes and structured support can really make a difference to a child's life, helping to maximise skills and achieve full potential in adulthood. An early diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is essential in order to ensure appropriate support is given.

Recognising the disorder

Features of the disorder can vary widely from one person to another; there is no single feature that defines either autism or Asperger syndrome.

For example, a child with an autism spectrum disorder may make eye contact, speak with perfect grammar or put an arm around another child who is crying. Occasional behaviour such as this doesn't exclude an autism spectrum disorder; it's the overall pattern that's relevant, not the intermittent flashes of "normality".

The degree to which people with an autism spectrum disorder are affected varies, but all those affected have impairments in social interaction, social communication and imagination. This is known as the "triad of impairments".

Social interaction

People with autism spectrum disorders have difficulties with social relationships. They may, for example, appear aloof and indifferent to other people or passively accept social contact, even showing some signs of pleasure in this, but rarely making spontaneous approaches.

Social communication

People with an autism spectrum disorder also have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of gestures, facialexpressions or tones of voice.
They also find it hard to appreciate the social cues and pleasure of communication. They do not understand language is a tool for conveying information to others. When they do use language it is generally used very literally with an idiosyncratic, sometimes pompous, choice of words and phrases and limited speech.


There are difficulties in the development of play and imagination, for example children do not develop creative "let's pretend" play in the way other children do. They have a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively.

Children and adults tend to focus on minor or trivial things around them - an earring rather than the person wearing it, the wheel of a toy rather than the car itself. They also tend to miss the point of pursuits involving words, such as social conversation, literature, especially fiction, and subtle verbal humour.

Repetitive behaviours

In addition to this triad, repetitive behaviour patterns are a notable feature, as is a resistance to changes in routine. People with autism spectrum disorders often become obsessed with particular objects or behaviours, focussing on them to the exclusion of everything else.

Sensory Issues

People with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may have "sensory issues" or a difference in sensory integration, where they can be either hyposensitive or hypersensitive to outside stimuli.

This means that a person can be very sensitive to particular sounds, light, smells and touch etc. Particular sensations may be very absorbing and pleasurable, others may be perceived as unbearably intense, stressful and even painful. The anticipation of such an experience can lead to extreme anxiety or panic. There may also be a lack of sensitivity and therefore response to pain. These type of experiences can often be very bewildering to parents, teachers and other ‘neurotypicals’

Special abilities

Some people with autism spectrum disorders, who may be severely disabled in most ways, will sometimes display talent for say, music, mathematics or technology. Some have a remarkable memory for dates and things that particularly interest them.

uploaded from: (2010)


ASD Guidelines Website

ASK (Autism Spectrum Kiwis)

Asperger Management
Asperger Management aims to provide support for people with Asperger Syndrome (AS) working in senior, white-collar professional management positions to enhance and promote personal development to enable the full potential of an AS Manager to be realised

Asperger's Syndrome New Zealand
ASNZ is a small advocacy/self-advocacy group established specifically by and for adults with Asperger's Syndrome which is currently involved in representation, advocacy, information, listening, advice, referral, publicity and education from a consumer lived-experience perspective.

do 2 Learn website - supporting special needs
Games, songs, communication cards, print resources, and information for special needs - including Toolbox for teachers, Autism awareness cards and strategies, colouring and print activities, free visual pictures, Math Mahjong and emotions games, Daily organisers and calender, Learn reading order and shapes.

Fun 4 younger kids!
colourful, safe games for younger kids to enjoy a computer experience

New Zealand Society for Music Therapy
Music therapy is the planned use of music to assist the healing and personal growth of people with identified emotional, intellectual, physical or social needs.

Sue Larkey - Special Needs Teacher, Australia
Smart strategies, information articles and action steps to making teaching & living with autism spectrum disorder a success

Tony Attwood
Tony Attwood is well known for sharing his knowledge of Autism and Apsergers Syndrome. He has an Honours degree in Psychology from the University of Hull, Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Surrey and a PhD from the University of London. He is currently adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith University in Queensland Tony operates a clinic and supports children and adults by visiting them at school and home. He also lectures nationally and internationally presenting workshops and papers.
He has written several publications including the latest: The Complete guide to Asperger Syndrome - for more details go to: Books and Library.

Tools for Coping with Life's Stressors
Resources for coping with grief and developing self-esteem. Includes specifically for parents of children with a developmental disability.