What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

AccessAbility Services What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

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Students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder - A Guide for Staff


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are lifelong developmental disabilities. The word “spectrum” is an umbrella term used as the range and severity of the difficulties people with ASD experience vary widely. Some people are able to live relatively 'normal everyday' lives whilst others will require a lifetime of specialist support.

Asperger Syndrome is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. Asperger Syndrome is distinguished from the other Autism Spectrum Disorders in having no general delay in language or cognitive development

Picture of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Including Asperger's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's Disorder.

VIDEO - Understanding Autism


The exact cause of Autism is unknown. It is suggested to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors that causes an abnormality of the brain development and function.


The characteristics of ASD are distinguished by impairments in communication, social interaction, and the development of restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours.


  • literal interpretations. For example if you say ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ a person with ASD may go outside to see if it is literally raining cats and dogs  
  • wordiness  
  • abrupt transitions from one topic to another  
  • quirky speech  
  • oddities in loudness, pitch, tone and rhythm  

Social interaction

  • difficulty developing friendships or enjoying unstructured conversations with others  
  • impaired non-verbal behaviours such as poor or sustained eye contact  
  • odd facial expression  

Interests and behaviours

  • narrow areas of interest  
  • collect relatively large amounts of information on a narrow topic  
  • stereotyped and repetitive behaviours. For example hand movements such as flapping and complex whole body movements  

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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? | Impacts on Study | Communication Strategies | Teaching and Assessment Strategies | AccessAbility Services Support | Additional Resources | Acknowledgements