Autism is a lifelong developmental disability, sometimes referred to as an autism spectrum condition (ASC) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.

The word "spectrum" is used because all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, but their condition will affect them in very different ways. For instance, some people are able to live relatively everyday lives whilst others will require a lifetime of specialist support.

Identifying that a person has autism can sometimes be difficult, as people with the condition do not "look" disabled. Therefore, parents of children with autism often say that other people simply think their child is naughty, while adults believe they are misunderstood.

Everyone with autism can benefit from a timely diagnosis and access to appropriate services and support.

What causes autism?

The exact cause of autism is still being investigated. However, research suggests that a combination of factors - genetic and environmental - may account for changes in brain development. People from all nationalities and cultural, religious and social backgrounds can have autism, although it appears to affect more men than women. It is not caused by a person's upbringing or their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.

Is there a cure?

At present, there is no "cure" for autism. However, there are a range of interventions, which enable learning and development, that can be helpful for the individual.

For more information, download our About Autism document.