Trying to unravel the mystery of autism

Autism affects as many as one in 100 of the UK's population. In my first blog as the BBC's disability correspondent, I've been talking to people affected by the condition.

"The thing with autism is nobody knows why. And there are all sorts of questions - is it something I ate when I was pregnant? Was it the birth? Is it genetics?"

It is only when the mother of a child who who has autism hits me with these relatively basic questions that I realise how little many parents of those with autism actually know about the condition. But for that matter, little is known about it, full stop.

We know it affects at least 600,000 people in the UK, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg. It is believed there could be another half a million people who are yet to receive a diagnosis. For this reason, many call it an invisible disability. So what do we know about autism?

It's a condition that affects how the brain develops which can then impact on how a person interacts, their ability to communicate and to make sense of the world they live in. It is complex and incredibly varied - from quite mild to so severe that a person may be unable to communicate. The full name for it is autistic spectrum disorder - ASD. It is a spectrum disorder because it affects every individual in a very different way.

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