Feature Article

Autism and the autistic spectrum disorders

Clare Cunningham



Most children with an autistic disorder will need lifelong support and assistance, as will their families. Although there is no treatment that will ‘cure’ the underlying disability, much can be done to assist the child and the family.

Key Points

  • The autistic spectrum disorders are characterised by marked impairment in social understanding and interaction, language and communication, and the ability to develop functional play, interests and activities.
  • The main distinctions between autism and Asperger’s syndrome are that in the latter there is no major delay in early speech development and intellectual ability is within the normal range.
  • There is little evidence to support gastrointestinal disturbance as a major contributing factor to autism.
  • Doctors can reassure parents that there is no credible evidence linking childhood immunisations to autism.
  • The treatment of the child with autism is essentially educational and behavioural, starting as soon as the diagnosis is made.
  • Even with some effective language and IQ within the average range, most autistic children will require lifelong support.