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What is autism ?

Before presenting different solutions gathered during my trip around the world, it is essential to give a precise definition of autism. 


The term “autism” was first introduced in 1943 by Léo Kanner and Hans Asperger to define behavioural and communication disorder. 


Until today, this disorder was named Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) according to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition (ICD-10). 


Nowadays, scientists use the term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

This term is more in line with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) published in 2013, and translated in French in 2015.


Autism is therefore classified among neurodevelopment disorders




Autism diagnosis criteria according to the DSM-5:



Two essential criteria define Autism Spectrum Disorder: 


1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction: these deficits are related to verbal and non-verbal communication (or body language):

  • Deficits in verbal communication : failure to exchange in a conversation, reduced sharing of interest and emotions, failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

  • Deficits in non-verbal communication : deficits or complete lack of visual contact, deficit in understanding and use of gestures.

  • Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships : difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts, difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends, absence of interest in peers.

2. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour: 

  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements : involuntary and continuous reproduction of the same gestures.

  • Use of objects: alignment, turning objects over etc.

  • Speaking: spontaneous tendency to systematically repeat everything or only part of a sentence as a verbal answer, out of context sentences etc. 


Behaviours are often ritualised and the person can show distress or difficulties if these habits are changed (need to take the same itinerary, to eat at the same hour etc.)


Finally, autism can be diagnosed in case of hyper or hypo reactivity to some sensory aspects of the surrounding/environment (visible indifference to pain, negative reaction to sounds or some texture, fascination for some luminous beams or movements). 



Now, let’s take a step back:


Regarding the “restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour” criterion, Hugo Horiot, Vice-President of Comité Consultatif National d'Autistes de France (French National Consulting Committee on Autism)  thinks “restricted” is a derogatory term and sadly illustrates how society looks down upon people with autism. 

Indeed, when a neurotypical person (individual not displaying or characterized by autistic or other neurologically atypical patterns of thoughts or behaviour) is fascinated by a subject or an object, this person is called “passionate”. This interest is valued. However, the term “restricted” characterises these behaviours as narrow, limited, small. 

During the 2017 International Conference on Autism, Hugo Horiot suggested to re-name these behaviours “specific” rather than “restricted”, which is a much more positive and rewarding terminology.  

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