What is Autism?

Autism is a complex and diverse neurodevelopmental condition affecting brain development and behaviour. It is a spectrum condition, which means that the symptoms vary between individuals, ranging from mild to severe, and also that symptoms fluctuate and change for any individual as they grow up. 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 individuals with autism also have co-occurring mental health (e.g. anxiety, ADHD) and physical health (e.g. gut/bowel disorders, epilepsy) problems.

How common is Autism?

Autism affects around 1% of individuals. In many communities the prevalence of autism has been increasing mainly due to the fact that recognition and access to diagnosis is improving over time. Autism is four times 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. The “autism gene” does not exist.

How is autism treated?

Autism is a lifelong disability and symptoms are usually apparent from early childhood. Autism can be diagnosed by appropriately qualified professionals according to international criteria for diagnosis. Each child or adult with autism is unique and, so, each autism intervention plan should be tailored to address specific needs.

Current pharmacological approaches for the treatment of autism are based on drugs that alleviate behavioural symptoms with a high impact on individual functioning. That is, current treatments are aimed at treating co-morbid symptoms such as seizures, tics, irritability, obsessive-compulsive or hyperactive behaviour. To date, however, no medication is available that can address the core difficulties linked to the symptoms of autism and foster a better quality of life for people living with the condition.

Current psychoeducation approaches include behavioural and communication/interaction based interventions (for young children often working through 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 a 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 are invited to join the EU-AIMS annual meetings as observers. 

More information: www.autismeurope.org