Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects people's social communication and interaction, patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. Autistic people may also experience different reactions to what they see, hear, smell, touch or taste.
There is no definitive test for autism. Instead, professionals diagnose using developmental assessments and observation.
About one in every 100 Victorians report having autism.1 However, many autistic people live without a diagnosis, and the true rate of occurrence may be higher.
Autistic people differ greatly in their characteristics, needs and their experience of disability.
Current international diagnostic standards give a limited account of the variability of intellectual development, social development, communication and behaviours. For this and other reasons, the terms "high functioning" and "low functioning" are not used in this plan.
On the other hand, the plan does identify a cohort of autistic people with complex needs, which can arise from a variety of circumstances, including:
- cooccurrence of additional health conditions or disability
- behaviours of concern
- interaction with the criminal justice system
- unsafe home environment
- drug and alcohol dependence.
Attitudes towards autism
A recent Amaze survey of community attitudes to autism and a survey of autistic people and families and carers of autistic people2 found that although community awareness of autism is very high, community attitudes can be barriers to autistic people's inclusion in social and economic life. In the survey of 2,424 Australian adults about attitudes to autism, more than 84 per cent of people said they thought autistic people were discriminated against and only 29 per cent thought they had a good understanding of how to support autistic people.
In Amaze's survey of 1,353 people who were autistic or were family or carers of autistic people, 20 per cent reported losing a job due to their or their family member's autism. More than half reported avoiding taking part in community life because of concerns about barriers in the environment (like crowds or levels of light or noise) or social barriers (such as needing support or worrying how people would respond to them). Fifty-two per cent reported feeling socially isolated, and 39 per cent sometimes felt unable to leave their home due to concerns about people behaving negatively towards them or their autistic family member.
In the survey, autistic people also reported positive attitudes from some people in the community, with around four out of five saying they are sometimes or often described as "clever" (84 per cent), "friendly" (81 per cent) or "focused" (79 per cent).
 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, "Victoria", ABS, Canberra
 Jones S, Akram M, Murphy N, Myers P, Vickers N 2018, Community attitudes & behaviours towards autism; and experiences of autistic people and their families, Research report for Amaze, Carlton