Autism Spectrum Disorder



What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD or autism) is a condition that affects a person’s ability to interact with the world around them. There are levels of severity from mild to severe and varying characteristics. No two autistic people are alike.

The term autism spectrum disorder includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).


The cause is not known. It is thought to be a neuro-developmental disability with neurological or genetic causes (or both). A person with autism has difficulties in some areas of their development, but other skills may develop in a typical pattern.

Around 1% of school age people are affected, with males being around three times more likely to be affected than females.

Those with autism will mainly experience difficulties in social communication and interaction. They may display restricted or repetitive behaviours, interests and activities (including sensory processing difficulties).


There is a range of behaviours commonly linked with autism. These may include challenges with communicating and interacting with others, repetitive and different behaviours, moving their bodies in different ways, strong interest in one topic or subject, unusual reactions to what they see, hear, smell, touch or taste, preference for routine and disliking change. As mentioned above these symptoms may be mild through to very severe. The impacts on life also vary from minor to highly incapacitating.

In children, autism is diagnosed through observation by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals ( paediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist and speech pathologist). There is no medical test for diagnosing autism.

Some are diagnosed as early as age two.

Some reach adulthood without a diagnosis or may have been diagnosed with another mental health issues. These people may choose to see a psychologist or psychiatrist with an interest in this area for assessment.


There are no specific medical disease complications and those with autism do not have shortened life expectancy. There is a higher risk of injury from certain behaviours and there may be associated mental health issues in some. Daily activities may be impaired to a significant or minor degree. Some may need full time care and assistance with activities of daily living (e.g. eating and bathing) whereas most will not.

Established Treatments

There are no specific medications to treat symptoms of autism. Some medications are used to treat associated anxiety or behavioural issues. These are generally medications designed for other mental health illness.

Early intervention with education and psychological support has been shown to improve outcomes for autistic children. Speech pathology and occupational therapy also has a role. The approach is generally a multidisciplinary one. The family members (parents and siblings) of autistic individuals often also need some support.

Treatment with medicinal cannabis

Medical cannabis and its treatment with autism.

Medicinal cannabis has been shown to assist with behavioural and anxiety symptoms in autism. It can be prescribed by a doctor when other treatments have failed or have caused unacceptable side effects. Studies suggest that a formulation of CBD from a whole plant extract or one high in CBD may be most useful. However individual response varies and some may respond better to equal parts of CBD and THC.