What is Autism?

I found the San Diegans I met when I lived there to be a friendly bunch!  I am not sure if it was my Australian accent or having a cute baby boy or both, but I often found myself in friendly banter with different people.  Occasionally an American would say to me ‘oh-you’re from Australia…do you know such and such? They are a friend of mine and they live in Australia.’

It’s a bit like that when someone says ‘my child/nephew/cousin/friend/ has autism’.  You have just directed me to a country as big as Australia, but there is so much diversity within that country that it’s pretty much impossible to just know exactly who they are and what they are like.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s) are a group of related brain-based disorders.  The main symptoms are social differences, communication differences and behavioural differences, also known as the ‘triad of impairment’.  This is evidenced in a multitude of ways, and in varying degrees of severity (a spectrum).  There are different types of autism, known as Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorders-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).  The criteria for these conditions are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-4th edition (DSM 1V), and fall under an umbrella heading of Pervasive Developmental Disorders.   The cause of ASD’s, in most cases, is not known.

ASD’s can also be associated with other syndromes and health problems like medical conditions, behavioural challenges, emotional and developmental disorders.  For example seizures, nutrition and gastrointestinal disorders, hyperactivity, sleep disturbances, cognitive deficits and anxiety disorders.  Every person is different.

So what do people and adults living with autism say about their condition?  I found listening to what one of the world’s most famous people with autism, Temple Grandin, says to be incredibly insightful.  See the link below.


There is not a single story for people with autism.  Hence the saying ‘when you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.’   

My son is a child first.  His life has been impacted by autism.  Yes, there has been suffering and pain.  There has also been profound joy and loads of love!  My son has challenges in areas that the typically developing child does not have.  He tries very hard to learn the skills needed for language, socialisation and behaviour.  Sometimes progress comes slowly.  The things typically developing children pick up almost instinctually, is actually real work and a real struggle for my child.  However, with the appropriate supports in place he is able to learn and grow and achieve wonderful things.

So when I talk about my boy, I do know him and I know where he lives in this big wide world.   My boy is a bright, funny, active, fun loving, affectionate and adventurous kid.  That’s his personality. That’s him with or without the autism.  He loves jumping on the trampoline, watching the TV show ‘Funniest Home Videos’, going to the beach, having big hugs and riding his scooter at the skate park.  Just like your child. He is loved.


4 thoughts on “What is Autism?

  1. “My boy is a bright, funny, active, fun loving, affectionate and adventurous kid. That’s his personality. That’s him with or without the autism.” <— Love that! 🙂

  2. Love your blog Karen- although I don’t have a child with Autisim i spend a lot of time with children with these various Disorders in my kindergarten classes. It’s great to hear about the journey of the parents- to know how I can better support those Mum’s and Dad’s. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s
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