What is Autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition found in approximately 1.5% of the general population. Autism traits vary significantly from person to person in number, intensity and types. This is why it’s called a spectrum.  


Autism isn’t a disease. It’s a permanent condition that remains present throughout the lifespan. Autistic people are present in all age groups, populations and social classes. Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder. Its origins are likely genetic, and its causes are still not well known. 


One autistic person may be reserved and non-speaking, while another will share their knowledge with enthusiasm and a large vocabulary. An autistic youth may not grasp the idea of taking turns, while another may be a chess master.

There are as many definitions of autism as there are autistic individuals. 

Here are some common traits of autism.

Unusual ways of communicating and relating with others.   

  • Little to no eye contact.

  • Difficulty recognizing and understanding emotions, or the meanings of facial expressions and gestures.

  • Challenges with understanding abstract language, implied meanings and humour. 

  • Socially awkward. 


Behaviours or interests that may seem unusual for their age or the situation.  


  • Strong reaction to routine changes or unexpected events. 

  • Anxiety and intense reactions. 

  • Highly specific, and sometimes restrictive, interests. 

  • Unconventional use of objects and toys. 


Unique ways of learning and understanding the world. 


  • Paying attention to details instead of the wider perspective. 

  • Difficulty managing multiple tasks. 

  • Challenges with guessing what other people may think or feel. 


Sensory particularities. 


  • High sensitivity to sounds, smells, sudden movements or touch. 

  • Seeking sensory stimulation (rocking, spinning objects, etc.) 


Along with these particular traits, autistic people also possess strengths and talents. 


Note: The term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD) is in use since 2013, replacing the previous designation “Pervasive Developmental Disorder” (PDD). The PDD category included five diagnoses: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. 

To learn more about autism: 
Fédération québécoise de l’autisme | 
Autism Canada | 


Explore Trait d’Union Outaouais’ autism awareness programs.