What is Autism in Simple Terms - No Medical Jargons! (2023)

In this post, let me address a common question among parents –What is autism in simple terms? When I try to explain to them that their child may be suspected of having autistic disorder, they are often confused on what Autism Spectrum Disorder actually is.

What this page contains

  • 1 What is Autism in Simple Terms?
  • 2 Explaining Autism in Simple Terms
  • 3 ASD Types By Severity
  • 4 Visit Our Autism Test Center
    • 4.1 What is it like to be Autistic?
    • 4.2 Challenges Parents Face while Understanding Autism
    • 4.3 A Bit of a Background on Autism
    • 4.4 The Role of Heredity in Autism
  • 5 National Autism Society(NAS) – Key Autism Traits Checklist in Adults” description
  • 6 Autism – Borderline or High Functioning Types
    • 6.1 The Thing aboutEcholalia
  • 7 Autism – Where is it Heading

“We are not specialists in health. We do not understand jargons like neurobehavioral impairments or spectrum disabilities. Can you please explain what is autism in simple terms? All, we want, is a simple explanation of Autism so that we understand what exactly is wrong with my child,” commentsGoerge Summers, Father of 3-year-old Sam, diagnosed with ASD

In simple terms, autism occurs when a child has trouble communicating and understanding what people think and feel. This makes it very difficult for autistic children to respond to gestures, facial expressions, touch and even language.

What is Autism in Simple Terms - No Medical Jargons! (3)

Fig 2:The spectrum of Autistic Disorders

(Video) Autism Spectrum Disorder: 10 things you should know

Autism Spectrum Disorder could lead tovarying degrees of impairment in the patient –ranging from mild or high functioning autism to the classical orsevere autism.

  • Asperger’sSyndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorderor PDD-NOS
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
  • Rett’s Syndrome
  • Classical Autism

What is it like to be Autistic?

In case you are wondering if your child may haveautism, the following most common signs of autism could be a good signal. Typically children diagnosed withautism spectrum are:

  • Likely to be oversensitive (even pained) by sight, sounds, and smell and touching which are normal for everyone else (refer to the post on sensory sensitive autism)
  • Likely to exhibit repetitive body movements, like rocking to & fro and making unusual finger movements in front of his/her eyes
  • Likely to display strong attachments to certain objects around them
  • Likely to get confused by changes in daily routines, often resorting to aggressive behavior
  • Likely to observe even small changes in the people or their surroundings

If you observe any of these characteristics of autism in your child’s behavior, please visit our Autism Test Online section for a detailed evaluation of your child

Challenges Parents Face while Understanding Autism

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Fig 3: Autism parents

The medical definition of autism is quite technical. That is perhaps why parents and family members strive to have a doctor or therapist who could easily explain what is autism in simple terms. Technically, autism is a complex neurobehavioral disorder which includes impairments in social, developmental and communicative skills combined with rigid and/or repetitive behaviors. Autism covers such a large spectrum of skills and impairments, which can sometimes lead to varying degrees of disabilities, thus requiring institutional care.

(Video) Autism Spectrum Disorder, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

A Bit of a Background on Autism

Understanding thehistory of autism may help some parents. The word ‘autism‘ comes from the Greek word “autos” meaning “self” and has been used for more than100 years. The termautism, therefore, describes a condition where a person is detachedfrom social interaction, and hence, an isolated self.

What is Autism in Simple Terms - No Medical Jargons! (6)

Fig 4: Eugen Bleuler

A Swiss psychiatrist, Eugene Bleuler, began using the term autism around 1911 to refer to the group of symptoms for schizophrenia. Until the 1940’s, research on autism and schizophrenia was done together as one subject. In the 1960’s, the medical professionals began to formulate separate understandings of autism in children. The role of behavioral therapy and the use of controlled learning environments came to light in the 1990’s. The previous method of electroshock therapy used in the 1960-70’s was put to rest. Today the cornerstone for research and therapy is focused on behavior, and language therapies.

The Role of Heredity in Autism

Whether Autism is Genetic or not has been a common concern among parents. Often would-be parentswith a previous history of Autism in their family ask me the question: Am I Autistic? Is what a couple of wanna-be parents has to say:
Amanda says, “Here is I am about to start a family and have already started the research journey preparing myself for parenthood. Along with this journey, it has occurred to mewhether I might have Autism? The thought never occurred to me before But since my sister has Rett’s syndrome, I am beginning to feel a bit edgy, what if ASD is genetic?”
Jason says, “Now that I want to bring a happy healthy child into the world, but I dohave a question that keeps popping up, What is the probability that I might have Asperger’s since I have challenges socializing? I have graduated college, havemarried, got a decent job and income but now in preparation for parenthood there is that little lingering question.”

  • Do you struggle in social situations?
  • Do you dislike or are uncomfortable with change?
  • Are you accused of staring blankly at something?
  • Do you not understand facial gestures of people around you?
  • Do people tell you that you speak too soft or too loud?
  • Do you always feel “wired”; have to be on the go?
  • Are you dyslexic or have epilepsy?
  • Is it hard for you to read people’s thoughts through their actions?
  • Do you find it easy to live by rules and follow routines?
  • Do you have a hard time filtering out background noise, lighting or smells?

(Video) 7 Early Signs of Autism Every Parent Should Know

There are many tests that can be administered by a psychologist, psychiatrist or neurologist. In most cases, you will need a referral from your general physician. Go through the checklist and the autism evaluation tests, present the finding to your general physician who will then, if required, refer you to one of the specialists for further testing and assessment.

Usually, a lesser form of the autism syndrome is called borderlineAutism. A child diagnosed with borderline or mild autism displays many of the symptoms, though not at a similar frequency or severity. Borderline Autism symptoms include the inability to adapt or make transitions easily, mild lack of social as well as language skills, developmental and sensory issues. They may have a hard time showing empathy for another person or know how to regulate their own emotions. Just as any diagnosis on the autism spectrum; tests, screening, and observation will need to be conducted.

The Thing aboutEcholalia

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Fig 5: Echolalia Autism

Echolalia is another form of borderline autism.What is Echolalia Autism? It is another form of Autism which isvery similar in nature to borderline autism but with one differentiating factor – Speech.Echolalia Autism is a rhythmic way of mimicking the cadence and tones of our language. Children with Echolalia Autism often mimic and repeat phrases to entire sentences. This is called “gestalt” which means whole. Learning a language the gestalt way would be like learning a language in chunks, just like a parrot. For example, such childrenknow who mommy is by the repetition of the word mommy whenever she is involved in anything. Echolalia Autism is often observedwhen the toddler is about two and a half years old.

Many children with this form of autism can echo or mimic what is being said by associatinga predefined sequence of words torepetitive actions. Some even lead to use the same voice inflections as the person that spoke the word or phrase. If a child stays with this echolalia type of speech it could indicate that the growth in communication skills of an autistic child may have stagnatedat a particular level. Reassessment and a new therapy plan would be needed at this time to move the child along to future levels.

What is Autism in Simple Terms - No Medical Jargons! (10)

(Video) Early Signs of Autism Video Tutorial | Kennedy Krieger Institute

To conclude,over time, the definition of autism has changed from being one disorder to a spectrum of tens (or maybe dozens) of disorders with overlapping symptoms. With intensive research and serious funds being propelled into Autism development, a lot has been achieved in the recent past and the future looks really bright for autism treatment.

• Social interaction impairments• Impairments in developmental language skills• Impairments in communication skills, verbal and non verbal• Repetitive behavior• Rigid adherence to a schedule" } }}


What is autism Short answer? ›

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition. Other causes are not yet known. Scientists believe there are multiple causes of ASD that act together to change the most common ways people develop.

What is the best way to explain autism in simple terms? ›

You can explain that autism is usually associated with difficulty in social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and adherence to routine. It also can be accompanied by sensory sensitivities and challenges with paying attention.

What does the word autistic actually mean? ›

Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people. It's something you're born with. Signs of autism might be noticed when you're very young, or not until you're older. If you're autistic, you're autistic your whole life.

What is the simplest form of autism? ›

Level 1 ASD is the mildest form of autism. Children with level 1 ASD have a hard time communicating appropriately with others. For example, they may not say the right thing at the right time or be able to read social cues and body language.

What was the first definition of autism? ›

The term autism first was used by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1908. He used it to describe a schizophrenic patient who had withdrawn into his own world. The Greek word ''autós'' meant self and the word “autism” was used by Bleuler to mean morbid self-admiration and withdrawal within self.

What is autism example? ›

not understanding social "rules", such as not talking over people. avoiding eye contact. getting too close to other people, or getting very upset if someone touches or gets too close to you. noticing small details, patterns, smells or sounds that others do not.

How do you explain autism to the brain? ›

In the autistic brain, the brain reduced connectivity, known as hypoconnectivity, allows weakly connected regions to drift apart, with sulci forming between them.” Research has shown the deeper theses sulcal pits are, the more language production is affected.

What do you say instead of autistic? ›

Professionals preferred to use “person with autism” while autistic adults and family members preferred on the whole to use “is autistic”.

Is autism a disability? ›

Autism is a neurological developmental disability with an estimated prevalence of one to two percent of the American and worldwide population. The diversity of the disability means that each person's individual experience of autism and needs for supports and services can vary widely.

What causes autism? ›

A common question after an autism diagnosis is what is the cause of autism. We know that there's no one cause of autism. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental, influences. These influences appear to increase the risk that a child will develop autism.

What is the difference between autism and autistic? ›

They are one and the same. The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the clinical definition for autism. Some people chose to be referred to as “an autistic person”, while others prefer to be referred to “a person with autism”.


1. Autism Jargon - Hyposensitivity
(Autism Live)
2. Amazing Things Happen - by Alexander Amelines
(National Autistic Society)
3. What is High Functioning Autism? | Kati Morton
(Kati Morton)
4. 7 Signs of Autism in Men (DSM-5 Symptoms of Autism/Aspergers in High Functioning Autistic Adults)
(Autism From The Inside)
5. 5 Signs You DO NOT Have Autism
(Autism Family)
6. Autism Symptoms and Behaviors - Home Video
(See And Do Kids)
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