Autism is developmental disorder characterised by seriously impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour. Asperger's syndrome is a less severe form of the disorder showing significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted patterns of interest. Together they are referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Although the exact causes of autism and Asperger's are unknown, we do know that it affects approximately 1% of the population. We also know that ASD is a neurological condition. There is something structurally amiss in the way the connections between nerve cells in the brain develop and how the cells interact. As well as a genetic component to this disorder there is evidence that the incidence of this disorder is increasing.
The variety and range of effects of autism and Asperger's and the lack of a medical test make it difficult to diagnose. More serious cases will become evident in the first few years of life. There will be various developmental delays, particularly delays in language development and social skills. Less severe cases may not be picked up or may be misdiagnosed as learning disorders, behavioural problems or simply misunderstood as personality quirks. These cases require careful expert evaluation by a specialist therapist.
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