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Autism is a lifelong, developmental condition that affects the way a person communicates, interacts and processes information.

Home > About Autism > What is Autism

What is Autism

The term 'autism spectrum' refers to the range of ways the condition presents itself in an individual which can vary greatly from person to person and throughout their life.  Together with David, a talented young illustrator who has Asperger's Syndrome, we have created an interactive animated resource to demonstrate this. You can have a look at it at

With support from some very talented autistic individuals at Project Ability, we have transformed our animated resource into a video bringing Sam, Lisa, Ruby and Matt to life.


Meet them and understand their stories by watching the the 'Understand Autism' video. 


What is Autism?

Origins of our understanding



Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger are the pioneering clinicians who in the early 1940s first began to formally identify children and young people who would today be understood to be on the autism spectrum.

Although both were Austrian, Kanner lived and worked in the USA. Remarkably, within a year of one another, Kanner in 1943 and Asperger in 1944, they both published papers based on their clinical work. Both used the term “autism” to define the presentation of the children who had come to their attention. Asperger’s work remained largely unknown in the UK until a translation of his paper was published in 1991 (Frith, 1991).

References: Asperger, H. (1944/1991). Autistic psychopathy in childhood. Translated in U. Frith (Ed), Autism and Asperger Syndrome(pp37-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217 – 250.

Autism and Other Conditions



Autistic individuals can and often do have other conditions. This can include but is not restricted to epilepsy, metabolic disorders such as Phenylketonuria, sensory impairments and genetic conditions such as Fragile X syndrome and Downs syndrome (Boucher, 2009).

Conditions associated with the autism spectrum are not mental illnesses. It is however recognised that there can be a vulnerability to mental health and wellbeing. Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome (PDA) is also increasingly recognised as part of the autism spectrum.

For more information about PDA please visit the PDA Society website.


Children Services

Scottish Autism provides support for children and young people aged 5 to 19 through individualised outreach support, our respite and short breaks service and our education service. We take the time to build up an understanding of each young person, taking into account their processing and thinking style and maximising their learning potential.

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Adult Services

We provide a wide range of services for autistic adults including day and vocational opportunities, outreach support and a variety of supported living options. Across our services we consider how each person thinks, learns and processes information in order to develop a personalised support plan.


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Information & Support

We have a dedicated team of experienced autism advisors who are on hand to give emotional and practical support to families and professionals. Whether it is signposting to particular services, information on getting a diagnosis or just someone to talk to who understands, we have someone here who can help.

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