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What Is Autism?

Note: The term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is in use since 2013, replacing the previously used designation “Pervasive Developmental Disorder” (PDD). The PDD category included five diagnoses: Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.


Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder found in approximately 1% of the general population.

Autism traits vary significantly from person to person in number, intensity and type. For example, one autistic person may be reserved and non-speaking, while another will share their knowledge with enthusiasm and a large vocabulary. An autistic youth may not grasp the idea of taking turns, while another may be a chess master. It’s often said that there are as many definitions of autism as there are autistic individuals.

Here is a sample of traits that can be observed in autistic individuals:

They may communicate and relate with others in unusual ways. For example:

  • Little to no eye contact
  • Difficulty recognizing and understanding emotions, or the meanings of facial expressions and gestures
  • Challenges with understanding abstract language, implied meanings and humour
  • Socially awkward

They may present behaviours or interests that seem unusual for their age or the situation. For example:

  • Reacting to routine changes or unexpected events
  • Anxiety and intense reactions
  • Highly specific, and sometimes restrictive, interests
  • Unconventional use of objects and toys

They have unique ways of learning and understanding the world.
For example:

  • Paying attention to details instead of the wider perspective
  • Difficulty managing multiple tasks
  • Challenges with guessing what other people may think or feel

Sensory difficulties are common.
For example:

  • High sensitivity to sounds, smells, sudden movements or touch
  • Seeking sensory stimulation (rocking, spinning objects, etc.)

Along with these traits, autistic people also possess strengths and talents.

Autism is not an illness, but rather a permanent state, a condition that remains throughout the life of the person. Autistic people are present in all age groups, populations and social classes. Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder. Its origins are most likely genetic, and its causes are still not well known.

To learn more, please visit the following sites:
Autisme Canada |