Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions that can affect social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a biological basis that is present at birth – children affected by autism can show characteristics before they are three, and parents may recognise from an early stage that something is wrong in their child’s social or language development.
In early infancy, some children with ASD don’t babble or use other vocal sounds. Older children have problems using non-verbal behaviours to interact with others – for example, they have difficulty with eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures. They may give no or brief eye contact and ignore familiar or unfamiliar people.
Children with ASD can also lack awareness of and interest in other children. They can find it hard to understand other people's emotions and feelings, and have difficulty starting or joining in with conversations. Language development may also be delayed.
In addition to impairment in social interaction skills, language and communication abilities, children or young people with autism may also exhibit unusual behaviours including restricted interests, resistance to change, rituals and unusual movements.
Experiences of autism can vary widely, but this video from the National Autistic Society shows more about what it can be like to be autistic as a child:
Some estimates put the proportion of boys on the autistic spectrum as high as 1%, and the condition is four times as high in boys as girls.
Children and young people with ASD frequently experience a range of cognitive (thinking), learning, emotional and behavioural problems. For example, they may also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or depression.