Last updated: 4 January 2021
What is ASD?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects social interaction, communication and behaviour. It is referred to as a spectrum condition because it affects each person differently.
ASD is not an illness. It is a life-long condition that affects the way people see and interact with the world.
Not all children and young people with ASD suffer from mental health issues, although it is very common. Children and young people with ASD can have mental and behavioural issues such as anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning difficulties. It is important to support children and young people with ASD in managing the condition and preventing these mental health problems.
Causes of ASD
The specific cause of ASD is not known. It is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Here are some factors that are associated with ASD:
Boys are 3-4 times more likely to be affected by ASD than girls
Genetics (e.g. sibling with ASD)
Parent with psychosis, schizophrenia or affective disorder
Use of sodium valproate during pregnancy
Existing learning difficulties
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Other genetic conditions (e.g. muscle dystrophy, down’s syndrome, fragile X syndrome)
Autism is NOT caused by:
Vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine
An infection you can spread to other people