What is autism?
Autism is a spectrum of neurodevelopmental conditions, characterised by difficulties in the development of social relationships and communication skills, in the presence of unusually strong narrow interests, repetitive behaviour, and difficulties in coping with unexpected change.
The causes of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are ultimately genetic but there are likely to also be environmental factors that interact with these. The changes in the pattern of brain development are evident from at least 2 years of age, and are likely to reflect pre- and perinatal factors.
Currently two major subgroups are recognized: Classic autism and Asperger Syndrome. Classic autism also typically involves associated learning difficulties (below average IQ) and language delay. Asperger Syndrome (AS) shares the features of autism but without the associated learning difficulties (they have average or even above average IQ) and without any language delay.
The proposed changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th edition) may merge both of these subgroups under the single heading of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Note that in the ARC we prefer the term ASC to the term ASD, but both terms are widely used.
The ARC aims to understand the causes of ASC, and what helps. The ARC provides information about its own research, but for practical advice relating to autism, contact the National Autistic Society (in the UK) or its sister organisations in your own country.
The ARC works closely with clinical services to ensure that its research informs, and is informed by, clinical practice.