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How to Better Understand Autism this World Autism Awareness Week

Written by Dr Kati Hajibagheri for Doctify

“Autism didn’t stop Einstein, Mozart or Newton from reaching for the stars.”

Learning about Autism and how it affects people is an incredibly important part of understanding it. For this World Autism Awareness Week, we spoke to Consultant Neuro-developmental Paediatrician Dr Kati Hajibagheri.

How would you define Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental difficulty where there is a triad of impairments consisting of difficulty with social interaction, difficulty with social communication, and difficulty with social imagination and play.

What are the main symptoms?

The term Autism spectrum is used as their difficulties in these three areas may affect them in different ways. Therefore people with the same diagnosis can present very differently.

Social Interaction

  • Not responding to their name
  • Not giving eye contact
  • Difficulty in initiating or maintaining interactions with peers
  • Difficulty in adjusting behavior to different social situations
  • Doesn’t give comfort or when they are upset, doesn’t like be comforted
  • Lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out to other people objects of interest
  • May have difficulty regulating or understanding their own emotions or others


  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Not using or rarely using common gestures (e.g. pointing or waving),
  • Difficulty in participating in a two way conversation
  • Flat, robotic speaking voice, or singsong voice
  • Repetitive speech or use of learnt phrases
  • Echolalia (repeating a phrase that have heard sometimes out of context)
  • Problems with pronouns (saying “you” instead of “I,” for example)

Social imagination and play

  • Repetitive behaviors like hand-flapping, rocking, jumping, or spinning
  • Fixations on certain activities or objects
  • Repetitive play sequences
  • Specific routines or rituals and getting upset when a routine is changed
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch, light, tastes, textures and sounds
  • Not taking part in “make-believe” play or imitating others’ behaviors

How is it diagnosed?

Assessment is usually by a multi-disciplinary diagnostic team. This may include a speech and language therapist, paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist. In the UK the most commonly used diagnostic criteria is the one used by the International classification of Diseases 10th version (ICD10). A revised edition (ICD-11) is expected in 2018 and is likely to closely align with the latest edition of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

During the diagnostic process various different assessment methods may be used to determine whether or not the diagnostic criteria has been met. This may be through interview as well as observation. In some assessments standardized interviews and play based observations are used such as DISCO (Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders), the ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised), and the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule).

These various assessments help clinicians collect information in order to help to decide whether someone is meeting the criteria for a diagnosis.

Why is diagnosis beneficial?

Understanding a child’s strengths and their needs helps families, teachers friends and the child themselves understand why they may find some things more difficult and it will help them supporting the child manage their needs.

Evidence has shown that early intervention and support in addressing these needs can be beneficial to the child in helping them maximise their potential.

What is the difference between Asperger’s and Autism?

Asperger’s syndrome is a form of Autism. People with Asperger’s syndrome tended to start speaking within the expected age range and have less communication difficulties. They also tended to have average or above average intelligence.

“Autism is part of my child, It’s not everything he is. My child is so much more than a diagnosis”



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If anything mentioned here has affected you and you want to know more, you can book an appointment with Dr Hajibagheri by clicking below.


Book an appointment with Dr Kati Hajibagheri