What is Autism?

The Autistic mind:  People with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) see the world in a very different way than we do. The signals in their brain seem to be jumbled and confused.

For many of these individuals, it seems their sensory perception is different.  Things that we take for granted are hard for them to understand. For example, a person's face to us is a way of telling a lot about someone, understanding the situation you’re in, reading a person's emotions, anger, happiness and sadness. People with ASD find it hard to read people’s faces and emotions, so they don't always understand how someone is feeling which also impacts on their social skills.

Another example is heightened sound sensitivity.  Many people with ASD have a very high sensitivity to sound so something as simple as a sneeze or a cough can almost be intolerable to them. People with ASD are very vulnerable people and rely on us as their support to almost be that part of them that can't unravel these mixed messages in their head. Quite often you will hear their disability described as the "Triad of Impairments,” itemized as the following:

• Difficulty in communicating
• Difficulty in understanding social situations
• Inflexibility of thinking

Autism is a disability which affects the development of social skills. People with autism may also have learning difficulties and find it very hard to make sense of the world around them.

Asperger’s syndrome is sometimes mistakenly called “mild autism.”  People with this condition are highly communicative and often have average or above average IQ, but they will quite often realize they are different from their peers and seem unable to lead the same lifestyle. This can lead to bewilderment, isolation, frustration, anger, despair, depression and in some cases to mental health difficulties.

Other common problems in people with ASD are aggression, irritability, obsessions, and repetitive behaviors. It is also very common to find that people with ASD suffer from ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome. People with ASD have a very hard life and are rarely in control of their own lives. The Autistic Spectrum Disorder is a very complex disorder which will often single these individuals out.  With the addition of their social skills impairment it can be a very confusing and lonely world.


Autism Facts and Stats.

  • 1 percent of the population of children in the U.S. ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder.1
  • Prevalence is estimated at 1 in 110 births.2
  • 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.3
  • Fastest-growing developmental disability; 1,148% growth rate.4
  • 10 - 17 % annual growth.5
  • $60 billion annual cost.6
  • 60% of costs are in adult services.7
  • Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention.8
  • In 10 years, the annual cost will be $200-400 billion.9
  • 1 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom have an autism spectrum disorder.10
  • The cost of autism over the lifespan is 3.2 million dollars per person.11

2003, 2006 Copyright the Autism Society. All rights reserved.


  1. Pediatrics, October 5, 2009, based on a National Children’s Health Survey done with 78,000 parents in 2007.
  2. "Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders - Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006." Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbitity and Mortality Weekly Report, 18 December 2009.
  3. Based on the autism prevalence rate of 1 in 150 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007) and 2000 U.S. Census figure of 280 million Americans.
  4. “Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Changes in the California Caseload, An Update June 1987 June 20007.” Cavagnaro, Andre T., California Health and Human Services Agency. State of California 2003 survey of developmental disabilities.
  5. Autism Society estimate based on 2003 US state educational data.
  6. Autism Society estimates based on UK study by Jarbrink K, Knapp M, 2001, London School of Economics: "The economic impact on autism in Britain," 5 (1): 7-22.
  7. Autism Society estimate.
  8. Autism Society estimate, using Government Accounting Office Report on Autism 2007.
  9. Autism Society estimate.
  10. Autism Spectrum Disorders in adults living in households throughout England," Report from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007, a survey carried out for the United Kingdom NHS Information Centre for health and social care.
  11. Arch Pediatric Adolesc Med. 2007;161:343-349.