Early years children with autism

Support, information, courses and support groups for parents, carers and families

What autism is

Autism is a brain-based developmental condition that affects how people perceive, communicate and interact with the world.

Children with autism have differences in the way they communicate, interact with others, process information and cope with sensory input, for example, smell, noise, taste or touch.

What causes autism?

We don’t know exactly what causes autism.  Evidence also strongly suggests a genetic basis but it’s very unlikely that one specific gene is responsible. It’s more likely that several genes combine and act together. What parents do or don’t do does not cause autism in their child.

The spectrum

Autism is a spectrum condition, so it will affect children in different ways.

Like all children and young people, individuals will vary in their intellectual ability, their personality, their profile of strengths and needs, the presence of other conditions (for example, learning disability, ADHD, epilepsy) and their life experiences.

It is called a spectrum condition because it affects everyone differently. Approximately 1 in 69 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum.

Words we use – and don’t use

There is no single way of describing autism.

We refer to children on the 'autism spectrum' or 'autistic children' to include all those who have a diagnosis of autism or any other autism spectrum condition.

We view autism as a 'different' rather than deficient or disordered way of being. We do not use the term ‘disorder’ when describing people on the autism spectrum.

Key areas of difference

Although no two children with autism are the same, they can have differences in the following key areas:

Interacting

Differences in understanding social behaviour and the thoughts and feelings of others, which impacts on the development of relationships and friendships. 

Communication

Differences in expressing, understanding and processing language. Some children may be pre-verbal and others very articulate. Good verbal language skills may mask a deeper level of misunderstanding.  

Sensory processing

Differences in perceiving sensory information. Hypo (low sensitivity), hyper (high sensitivity), touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste, vestibular inner ear (balance) and proprioceptive (body awareness).

Emotional regulation

Differences in being able to understand and manage the messages that they are receiving from the world and those around them can mean that they have difficulties in calming or reducing their anxieties and stress.  

Processing information

Differences in planning, organisation, predicting, managing transitions and generalising skills. Children may have a passionate interest in a chosen topic.

For more information see: www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk and www.autism.org.uk.