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Defining autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term used to group a range of brain development disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term used to group a range of brain development disorders including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).

Things changed in 2013. Before 2013, people referred to a triad of impairment in autism. However, there were two versions of this triad:

  • In Europe, Lorna Wing described a triad of deficits in social communication, social interaction, and social imagination.
  • The American Psychiatric Association, however, described a triad of impairments in social communication, social interaction and the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviours and interests.

So both triads identified impairments in social communication and interaction, with a different emphasis on the third element of the triad (social imagination or restricted and repetitive behaviours or interests).

In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association proposed all autism-related diagnoses (eg Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome) be given the label Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD for short.

For more details see Kenny et al, 2015 about the different terminology.

In this course, we use the terms autism and on the autism spectrum, and use the term autistic community to refer to the population with a diagnosis of autism and broader autism community to refer to those touched by autism (such as families, carers, practitioners).

Some autistic adults do not like the term disorder and instead say that ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Diagnosis. Our aim is that the language used should not cause offence nor be a barrier during the course. Language use can also change over time, and where differences emerge in preferences for different terms, we encourage tolerance and discussion, to ensure terminology does not become a barrier to working together.

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Good Practice in Autism Education

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