What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong, complex and diverse neurodevelopmental condition affecting brain development and behaviour. It is a spectrum condition, which means that while people share certain difficulties, their autism will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people are able to live independent lives but many have learning disabilities or co-occurring healthcare conditions often requiring a lifetime of specialist support. Autism affects social communication abilities, patterns of behaviour and sensory processing.

In many, but not all cases, the symptoms of autism reveal themselves early in life, most notably through:

  • Difficulties in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts
  • The presence of restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities and atypical sensory responses

Many autistic people also have co-occurring mental health (e.g. anxiety, ADHD) and physical health (e.g. gut/bowel disorders, epilepsy) problems.

How common is Autism?

Around 1% of the population is autistic . In many communities the prevalence of autism has been increasing. This is mainly due to the fact that recognition and access to diagnosis is improving over time. Autism is currently more common among males than females.

What causes Autism?

Recent twin studies show that most cases of autism are caused by the interaction of different genes and environmental (biological as well as social) factors.

How are autistic people supported?

Each autistic person is unique and, so support and treatment plans are highly variable and should be tailored to address specific needs.

Current pharmacological treatment for challenges associated with autism are based on drugs that alleviate behavioural and physical symptoms to improve quality of life and well-being. Current therapies are aimed at treating co-occuring symptoms such as seizures, tics, irritability, obsessive-compulsive or hyperactive behaviour. Some people would like medications to help with the core difficulties of autism. There is no medication available for autistic people seeking such improvements.

Current psychoeducational approaches include behavioural and communication/interaction based interventions (for young children often working with parents) as well as structured and supportive approaches to managing the environment in the school, the home and work/activity place.


Relevant contact:

Autism-Europe is an European umbrella organisation whose main objective is to advance the rights of people on the autism spectrum and their families and to help them improve their quality of life. It currently gathers over 85 autism associations in 38 countries.

Autism-Europe works alongside its members to:

  • Represent people with autism towards all European Union institutions;
  • Promote awareness of the appropriate care, education, and well-being of people with autism;
  • Promote the exchange of evidence-based information, good practices and experience.

Autism-Europe’s representatives were invited to join the EU-AIMS annual meetings as observers. 

More information: www.autismeurope.org