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What is autism? Spectra.Blog explores the definition for autism spectrum disorder / condition (ASD / ASC)

by | Nov 23, 2017 | News & Views | 2 comments

Please note, some of our older posts like this one may not reflect the latest terminology and diagnostic guidelines – click here to read them, in our blog on autism diagnostic criteria!

So, what is autism?

I’ll tell you what it is NOT.

Autism is NOT a mental condition; thanks Google, for that fairly bland description (see pic!) Autism is categorised clinically as a ‘pervasive developmental disorder’.

The UK’s National Autistic Society states that autism is – “A lifelong, developmental condition that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.”

The UK’s NHS describes autism as follows – “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.”

Check out a few of the common ‘autistic traits’ below…

The common sub-types of autism, until summer 2018 at least, tended to be described as ‘classic autism’ and high functioning autism. The latter included Asperger’s and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Almost half of people identified as having ASD are said to have average to above average intellectual ability; so autism isn’t linked to low intellect. Autism is essentially a condition affecting communication and processing, at varying levels – hence the ‘spectrum’ – no two autistics are the same!

There’s no cure for autism, although people on the autistic spectrum may undergo various therapies and techniques that help them to develop their own skillsets.

There is a useful graphic which we have shared here, called ‘The family of pervasive developmental disorders’, sourced from the excellent website “PDA Resource” which has links to various recommended websites, blogs, documents, graphics etc. This graphic is by Newson, Marchal and David. Althoigh dated now, this graphic shows nicely the relationship between the different ‘sub-types’ of autism.

Please note that as we always say in each blog post, here at, we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We do not claim to be experts on any form of autism. 

(You may also like this BLOG on functioning labels).

(CLICK HERE to read our NEWER blog on autism diagnostic criteria – updated summer 2018.)

This entire blog-site includes various articles aiming to inform readers about the various facets of autism, so this post itself is quite short! However one of the best videos that we have seen describing autism spectrum disorders in children is included below, as it is so explanatory.



  1. Matt

    Really nice site Cathy, thanks! I like the word ‘condition’ and was much happier when the term ASC seemed to become preferred to ASD (late 2017 in our experience). You have inspired me to articulate my thoughts on this topic as my next blog post which I would be happy to share when I publish.

    • admin

      Thanks Matt yes please – please do share your link and maybe we can share the content here? k x


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