Autism is not a disease, it is a disability. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting communication and social interaction. A person does not become autistic, but is born autistic. The first signs appear in infancy, or later depending on the person.
Autism features vary widely from one person to another. That is why we call it autism spectrum disorder (ASD): all people on that spectrum experience autism to varying degrees.
However, two typical symptoms have been identified. That is called the autistic dyad:
• challenges in communication and social interaction
Little or no language, unsuitable nonverbal communication, repetition of some words or phrases, poor comprehension of innuendos, humor, metaphors/idioms, difficulties expressing his/her emotions and understanding the others’ ones, discomfort in social interactions …
• repetitive behaviors and restricted areas of interest
Repetitive or compulsive movements, intolerance of (unexpected) change, obsessional areas of interest or activities… Those signs often come along with sensory hyper- or hyposensitivity. Autistic people can, indeed, overreact to sensory stimuli (noise, lights, smells, feel…) or, rather, be little sensitive to them.
In parallel, autism often comes along with other impairments: sleeping or psychiatric disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression), hearing or visual impairments, learning or attention disorders (e.g. hyperactivity), impairment in sensory perception, etc. But also diseases such as epilepsy, Down syndrome, some genetic diseases (e.g. Rett syndrome, fragile X syndrome), etc. Those related disorders and diseases are called comorbidities.
Autism is not curable. There is currently no medical treatment for it. However, multidisciplinary care tailored to every person’s needs can improve autistic people’s quality of life all along their existence.