Autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder is the name for a group of conditions where a person has delay or difficulty in thinking and social development, which includes play, and communication (language).

As children grow from birth to adulthood, there are a number of skills we expect to see in them. While it is common to have problems or delay in development of one of these areas, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has delay or difficulty in all three of these areas. Examples include:

  • understanding and using verbal (language) and non-verbal communication (facial expression, gesture and body language)
  • understanding social behaviour, which affects their ability to play or interact with other people
  • thinking and behaving flexibly, which may be shown in restricted, obsessional or repetitive activities.

Autism can vary from very mild, through to severe. With a wide range of symptoms and presentations, health care providers have moved to thinking of autism as a "spectrum" or group of conditions with Asperger syndrome at the mild end and severe autism at the other end.

ASD is thought to affect about 1% of the population or more than 40,000 New Zealanders.

Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.

Paul Collins

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

The cause of autism spectrum disorder is not known. It lasts throughout a person's lifetime. 

What are the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and how is it diagnosed?

If your child has autism you may notice things that are different about them from the ages of 18 months to 2 years. Some things doctors look for in children that may have autism include:

  • Problems with social activities, not wanting to be picked up or not wanting to play with other children.
  • Trouble communicating, talking slowly or not very often.
  • Very sensitive to sound, strong sense of smell or taste.
  • Odd movements such as flapping arms and hands.

Myths about autism spectrum disorder

Symptoms and the severity of symptoms vary in ASD so there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how an autistic person interacts with the world. There are many myths about autism. Read more about these myths.

How is autism spectrum disorder treated?

While there is no cure, treatment can help. There's a range of treatments including behaviour and communication therapies and medicines to control symptoms. Most people with autism can live full and productive lives.

Courses and programmes about autism spectrum disorder

There are many courses and programmes you can get involved with to help you with any questions or issues you might have in taking care of someone with autism.

Courses Children's Autism Foundation
Tips for autism  Te Kete Ipurangi

Learn more about autism

Is there a cure for ASD? (video) Autism New Zealand
Assistive technology, support and resource links to help those with autism succeed in post-secondary education (click 'autism' in left menu) Affordable Colleges Online (ACO)