What is autism?

ASD is a broad set of conditions that affect neurodevelopmental and nervous system functioning, resulting in difficulties in communication and social interaction, as well as in the flexibility of the person's thinking and his/her behaviour.

The severity of autism varies greatly, not only between individuals but also within the same individual over time. In addition to variation in behavioural expression, there is wide diversity in cognitive ability, which can range from average or superior intelligence to profound disability.

Nowadays, it is not possible to determine an only cause that explains the appearance of ASD, but it is possible to determine the strong genetic involvement in its origin. The great variability present of this type of disorder also points to the relevance that the interaction between different genes and different environmental factors may have in the development of autism, but for the moment, these elements have not been clearly identified, and much research is still needed.


The number of individuals diagnosed with autism has increased significantly over past decades. Although estimates vary it is now generally recognised that prevalence is at least 1%-1.5%.

And current understanding accepts that there is a significant gender bias in diagnosis. Males outnumber females by around 3-4 to 1 in childhood.

(Autism Europe, 2019)

autism - body knowledge, joint attention & imitation

In the framework of the study of the nature of autism, its perception of human figures has been the focus of research in recent years. Several studies have focused on biological movement (a term used to describe the unique visual phenomenon of the movement of a living organism). After analysing biological motion, the importance of genetics in the way social scenes are viewed has been detected.

Franchini et al. (2016) developed a study in which they analysed the correlation between preferences for social stimuli, such as biological movement, at three years of age and the severity of autism symptoms one year later, finding that children with autism who preferred social stimuli at three years of age had a much better prognosis and also a decrease in symptoms one year later. Yang et al. (2016) found a positive relationship between biological movement responsiveness and the effectiveness of different early intervention programmes in autism.

Body posture imitation is a skill that is highly dependent on an adequate perception of biological movement. Nadel has thoroughly analysed imitation in autism, and concluded that it plays an important role in the development of communication and learning in autism (Nadel, 2015). Body knowledge and joint attention (linked to pointing) also have important implications for the development of social competence.

BODY knowledge

Many people with Autism and intellectual disability have difficulties in learning and having learning and knowledge of the body knowledge. As a consequence, they may experience deficits both at motor level (for example, slowness, awkwardness or no coordination) and at perceptive level (for example, lack of hand-eye coordination, spatial organisation and spatio-temporal structuring) that limits them to interact and function easily in the environment around them.


Many people with Autism and intellectual disability have difficulties in joint attention that may be present not only in the early stages of development but throughout the life cycle. As a consequence, they can lose many opportunities of communication, socialisation and meaningful learning.


Many people with Autism and intellectual disability do not develop imitation behaviours in the evolutionary moment that it would be necessary. As a consequence, they have difficulties in other areas that are also essential for their development such as play skills, peer interaction or joint attention.

The skills of body knowledge, joint attention and imitation skills can be worked and therefore improved. Most of the intervention programmes for children with autism consider improving these three skills in their work objectives because they are the basis of more complex learning. Through a wide range of exercises, these skills can be put into practice being able to observe improvements after a few sessions that will vary in number and intensity depending on the needs of each person.