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Indicators of autism

An overview of autistic spectrum disorder
© The Open University

The National Autistic Society highlights the point that definitions change, and characterises autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a lifelong developmental disability that impacts how people communicate and interact with their world. The cause is unclear, and severity ranges from persons needing 24-hour care to those needing support with communication and social interaction.

One in 100 people are on the autistic spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. In January 2020, although only 11% of all students identified as having special educational needs or disabilities have ASD, for students with education, health and care plans (EHCPs) it was the most common area of need identified, with 30.1% of students with EHCPs having this primary type of need (DfE, 2021).

Each person with ASD is an individual. The ASD child’s response to the world is different; it is not wrong or lesser than other children’s responses and it is important to value each person for themselves.

Autism is often characterised as a ‘male’ condition, with boys being three or four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. It has been suggested that girls are more able to hide or ‘camouflage’ their behaviours. However, under the surface of the camouflage, girls may experience high levels of stress, anxiety and exhaustion (Allely, 2019).

Your task: Understanding ASD

Estimated study time: 15 minutes

Do you know anyone with ASD? What are some of the early signs that parents or teachers might notice? Share your own experiences or search the internet to find out more about the possible signs of ASD.

Share two or three possible signs in the comments with your co-learners.

We’ve included an optional video in See also that you may find useful.


Allely, C.S. (2019) ‘Understanding and recognising the female phenotype of autism spectrum disorder and the “camouflage” hypothesis: a systematic PRISMA review’, Advances in Autism, 5(1), pp. 14–37.

Department for Education (DfE) (2021) Special educational needs and disability: an analysis and summary of data sources [Online].

© The Open University
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