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Understanding autism

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Understanding autism
Learn about autism, a complex and challenging long-term condition for many individuals and their families worldwide, and an aspect of human diversity to others. This free course, Understanding autism, introduces the autism spectrum, how it is experienced by different individuals and families, and why it is a global concern. The course explains how ideas about autism have evolved and explores diagnosis, causes, intervention and life-span development. Widely varying perspectives on autism are illustrated and key societal and cross-cultural issues highlighted.


This OpenLearn science course is produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education356, the educational arm of The Exilarch's Foundation.

Enrolling on the course will give you the opportunity to earn an Open University digital badge. Badges are not accredited by The Open University but they're a great way to demonstrate your interest in the subject and commitment to your career, and to provide evidence of continuing professional development.

Once you are signed in, you can manage your digital badges online from My OpenLearn. In addition, you can download and print your OpenLearn statement of participation – which also displays your Open University badge.

The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations for the course in this start-of-course survey. We welcome your feedback and suggestions to improve the course.

This course is endorsed by the CPD Standards Office 358. It can be used to provide evidence of continuing professional development but is not accredited learning. We are unable to provide formal learner verification services for participation in our open online courses, which are provided freely by The Open University as self-directed CPD.  

Anyone wishing to provide evidence of their enrolment on this course is able to do so by sharing their Activity Record on their OpenLearn Profile, which is available before completion of the course and earning of the Statement of Participation.

Understanding autism

Earn this free Open University digital badge if you complete this course! The badge can be displayed, shared and downloaded as a marker of your achievement. The badge is awarded for completing the course and passing the quizzes.

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • outline what is meant by autism, why it is considered a spectrum and how it affects different individuals and families
  • appreciate different approaches to understanding autism, including theoretical and clinical perspectives and personal accounts
  • outline key features of psychological, neurobiological and genetic explanations of autism
  • explain key aspects of diagnosis, intervention, education and life-span development
  • understand topical issues including neurodiversity perspectives, autism prevalence in women and autism in global context.

First Published: 26/04/2017

Updated: 02/04/2020

You can start this course right now without signing-up. Click on any of the course content sections below to start at any point in this course.
If you want to be able to track your progress, earn a free Statement of Participation, and access all course quizzes and activities, sign-up.

Course content

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