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Autism - dispelling the myths

3-minute read

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, affects around 1 in 150 Australians. People with autism can find they have difficulties with communication and social interactions. There is no evidence that it is caused by food or any other substances.

The autism spectrum

Doctors used to think that Asperger's syndrome and autism were separate conditions. They now think that they are all part of one condition, called autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

This is a lifelong developmental problem, which means that the brain does not develop the same way it does in most people. Autism is not a mental health problem or an intellectual disability, although some people with autism will also have those problems.

Symptoms of autism

People with autism can be affected in lots of different ways, and each person is different. They may have trouble communicating or interacting with other people. They might prefer routine to change. They might have ideas or behaviours that are repeated. Or they might be very sensitive to things that they smell, hear, see, touch or taste.

These issues might be very severe, or they may be very minor. They might show up in children, or they might not be obvious until later in life.

If someone is thought to have autism, a GP will often refer them to a specialist doctor, such as a psychiatrist or a paediatrician, or a psychologist, to confirm the diagnosis.

There are many services available to help support people and families who are affected by autism. Support information for carers is also available on Carer Gateway.

Causes of autism

Autism is caused by the way that the brain develops. If someone in your family has autism, it is more likely that other people in the family will also have autism or an autism spectrum disorder.

There is no evidence that autism can be caused by vaccinations, foods or other lifestyle factors.

Mental health and autism

Autism is not a mental illness. But people with autism have higher rates of mental illness such as depression and anxiety than others. It can be very difficult to tell if someone with autism also has a mental illness, because they may have trouble communicating how they feel.

If someone with autism is diagnosed as having a mental illness, they can access treatment under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme through a doctor. This is funded through Medicare.

Where to get help

For more information about autism spectrum disorders, see:

For help with how to get support and services, see the Raising Children Network's autism service finder.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2018

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