What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

October 13, 2022
Natasja de Kock

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  is a developmental condition affecting how a person communicates, interacts with others and experiences their environment. It is far more common than people realise. It is also not as obvious as people think it is. The average age of diagnosis is 4 years old, but experts can find out in children under 1 year old, and even in the womb (with scans)

Early signs of autism

Early signs are : does you child turn to their name? Do they make less eye contact than others? Do they seem to be in their own world? If they are walking, do you have a lot of photos of the back of their head?

Do they wave hello or goodbye? To make this harder, amnh children with ASD have regressive autism. They may be socially connected and speaking their first words, then ‘fall down a slope’ at around 18-24 months.

Stengths and abilities of autism

Each Ausitic person is unique and will have their own range of strengths and abilities for example:

  • A sense of wonderment
  • Being precise and detail oriented
  • Exceptional honesty and reliability
  • Strong adherence to rules
  • A drive for perfection and order and
  • Capacity to notice details and remember things

Autism poses the following challenges

Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may experience difficulties in the following areas:


A person with autism may have difficulty with understanding and using gestures and words, following directions and having conversations. They may also be more difficult to understand and talk very little or not at all. This often results in persons with ASD using challenging behaviors instead of words to indicate their wants and needs.

Social skills:

Persons with autism may have difficulties in relating to others. They may have trouble with sharing attention with someone and work together towards a common goal or to respond when others invite them to play or talk or to understand how others feel. This may lead to social interactions that are misunderstood by non autistic persons.


Someone on the ASD spectrum may at times repeat certain behaviors like hand and body movements and have trouble changing from one activity to the next. They may also become upset by certain sounds/ smells or textures and their interest may be restricted to only a few objects or topics.

Speech therapy and Occupational Therapy can have enormous positive impact, and the sooner you start the better. Don’t wait for a formal diagnosis. The waitlists to see specialist can be very long, and you need to make the most of precious windows of development.

If you have a feeling your child may need more support, act on that feeling. Don't let people say ‘my uncle only started talking when he was 5, stop worrying.” Ignore those people and trust your instincts
It is important for parents to realise  that you do not have to wait for a formal diagnosis to access NDIS funding and start getting support https://www.ndis.gov.au/understanding/families-and-carers/early-childhood-approach.

Who to contact

“If you have concerns about your child’s development, or your child has a disability, you can contact an early childhood partner to access our early childhood approach. Usually, you would’ve already discussed your concerns, or your child’s disability, with your doctor, child health nurse, or other health professional. You do not need a referral or diagnosis from a medical professional to access support through our early childhood approach.”

If there is the possibility of an ASD diagnosis or one recently received an ASD diagnosis, it is important to start exploring supports, both formal (in the form of service providers like Occupational Therapists or Speech Therapists) and informal support as soon as possible.

This process can seem very overwhelming because there is so much information out there but it can also be empowering as you grow in your understanding of ASD.

Useful links about autism

For more information on ASD and the latest evidence on interventions, here are some more useful links:

Raising Children Network

Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia)

Autism CRC

Autism Awareness Australia

NDIS Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI)