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What is autism? The definition (PRE 2018)

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 was categorised clinically as a ‘pervasive developmental disorder’. But it is a difference in processing, at its core.

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 (at the time of writing) – “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.”

Check out a few of the common autistic characteristics below…

The common sub-types of autism, until summer 2018 when the newer diagnostic guidelines began to be used, tended to be described previously as ‘classic autism’ and ‘high functioning autism’. The latter generally included Asperger’s and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Now, autism is the umbrella term used for diagnosis – some people use the term autism spectrum condition.

Almost half of people identified as being autistic are said to have average to above average intellectual ability; so autism isn’t linked to low intellect. Autism is essentially a neurology affecting communication and processing, at varying levels – hence the ‘spectrum’ – no two autistics are the same!

There is a useful graphic that we can now frame as a historical reference, to see how autism has been previously positioned, called ‘The family of pervasive developmental disorders’, sourced from the excellent website “PDA Resource”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.

It clearly doesn’t fit with the neurodiversity paradigm.

Although very dated now, this graphic shows the relationship between the different ‘sub-types’ of autism, as they were previously described by clinicians, pre 2018.

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.

We’re not autism experts! The information we post at this site represents a journey of personal discovery and is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. 



  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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