Autism is a lifelong neurological and complex condition that affects the way a person perceives and interacts with other people and the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that whilst all people with autism share certain difficulties, they will be affected by them in different ways. Some may lead relatively independent lives while others require dedicated support every day.
There is currently no real consensus on whether autism is one condition or a range of similar and inter-related neurodevelopment conditions with separate sub-groups, such as Kanner or classic autism, Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism.
As a spectrum condition, autism manifests itself in many different ways. Some people with autism have accompanying learning difficulties, whilst others may possess high levels of intellectual ability. However, everyone living with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world and exhibits difficulties in three main areas:
This includes difficulty with social relationships, appearing aloof, showing compromised ability and little desire to live in communal situations, trouble in understanding social rules and prioritising their own needs over those of other people.
There can be difficulty in interpreting verbal and non-verbal communication such as understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice. In some cases, people might have limited or no ability to talk.
Restricted repetitive behaviours
There can be difficulty in managing transitions and dealing with changes in routine. Repetitive behaviours, such as pacing, hand flapping or rocking and persistent preoccupation with certain subjects and objects are typical.
People with autism may also display some or all of the following characteristics, which can present themselves as either challenges or strengths, but all of which have implications for the design of their home environments:
There is no single register of people with autism in the UK, but it is estimated that 1% of the adult population suffer from the problem. Autism affects men and women of all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, but it troubles men far more than it does women on a possible ratio of 4:1.