What is Autism?

AUTISM is a disability that primarily prevents children from making contact with other people. Though it is a condition with a wide-ranging degree of severity (hence the description "autistic spectrum disorder"), most autistic children display impairment in three areas: social interaction, social communication and imagination. Repetitive behaviour patterns are also common.

For example, children (and adults) with autism:

         Appear to lack the ability and understanding necessary to engage in meaningful communication. They pay little or no attention to others' actions or responses as they lack the capacity to understand other people's feelings.

         Don't make eye contact. Autistic children will rarely play with other children, though they might do so if someone insists and assists.
Lack creative pretend play. They are unable to play imaginatively with objects, toys or with people.

         Develop language very slowly, if at all. Speech patterns are often peculiar - words are used inappropriately and the tone of voice is often formal and monotonous.

         Don't understand language is a tool for conveying information to others. They may ask to fulfill their needs but find it hard to talk about their feelings or thoughts.

         Often become obsessed with particular objects or behaviours, focusing on them to the exclusion of everything else.

         Exhibit bizarre behaviour like flapping their hands, laughing or giggling inappropriately or spinning objects (this is called "stimming"). They also demonstrate challenging behaviour such as running away, screaming, biting or kicking other people, grabbing things off counters in shops, or making nave and embarrassing remarks.

While some can carry out some tasks very well, they can't handle tasks involving social understanding.

Generally, problems emerge in the first two to three years of life. For effective intervention and management of the condition, it is important to recognize autism early in a child's life.

An estimated 15 to 20 children in every 10,000 children worldwide have this development disorder; and autism is four times more common in boys than in girls.

What causes autism?

The exact cause of this complex condition has not been established. However, there is evidence that autism has a physical origin and not an emotional one. Experts believe that the pattern of behaviour exhibited by autistic children and adults might be due to various physical factors, which affect brain development and is probably not due to a single cause.


A variety of program and treatments are available - from those focusing on vigorous physical conditioning to structured, behavioural teaching programmes and even diet and medication. However, no one programme or treatment is beneficial to all people with autism. Early diagnosis is essential if people with autism are to achieve full potential.

Presently, there is no known cure. Children with autism grow into adults with autism, many of whom will need constant care and supervision throughout their lives.

However, there have been cases of parents who have helped their autistic children recover either completely or partially with early intervention programmes.

Information sourced from "What is Autism" booklet by the National Autistic Society, London and 'Autism', a booklet produced by the Autistic Association Singapore.

For more information about Autism, we have selected some useful websites for you: