Autism can be a very confusing diagnostic label. Autism is a life long developmental disability. The term is used both for a more specific syndrome of different developments and also for a much broader range of related conditions. To date the causes are not yet known, and these conditions are defined in terms of sets of behavioral symptoms which are not the same in every affected person.
After a great deal of research interest during the 1990s, we can now understand several things about autism more clearly. There is general agreement that autism involves a triad of impairments in social interaction, in communication and the use of language, and in social imagination. This can present differently in each person with a diagnosis but will often be reflected in restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior and activities. Those who combine all three impairments to a marked degree have the classic form of autism, so named by Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, in 1943. But much larger numbers have some of the traits of autism.
The idea of a spectrum or continuum of autism conditions is helpful to include persons who have some if not all the symptoms of autism, sometimes in combination with other disabilities. Asperger syndrome is a term used to describe individuals with a diagnosis who are affected but may present in a different manner.
The persons autism may be accompanied by learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may also have specific learning difficulties. Some of these could include dyslexia and dyspraxia, or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.
Many individuals with autism or Asperger syndrome can experience heightened or dampened sensory processing. This is referred to as hyper or hypo sensitivity. By completing a sensory assessment the person, or their family, can identify how the world around them impacts on their sensory processing and develop strategies to reduce the heightening or offer the senses that are dampened.