Autism | what is it?

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also changes their understanding of the world around them.


Tell me more

Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.

Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.

People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence.

They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

Asperger syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability'. This means that you can't tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance.

 
 

Download | the facts

About | autism

About | aspergers

About | high functioning autism

coming soon

 
 

Three main areas of difficulty

The characteristics of autism vary from one person to another but are generally divided into three main groups. These are:

  • Difficulty with social communication
  • Difficulty with social interaction
  • Difficulty with social imagination
 

Learning difficulties

They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

 

People with autism have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal language. Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say. They can find it difficult to use or understand:

  • Facial expressions or tone of voice
  • Jokes and sarcasm
  • Common phrases and sayings; an example might be the phrase 'It's cool', which people often say when they think that something is good, but strictly speaking, means that it's a bit cold.


Some people with autism may not speak, or have fairly limited speech. They will usually understand what other people say to them, but prefer to use alternative means of communication themselves, such as sign language or visual symbols.

Others will have good language skills, but they may still find it hard to understand the give-and-take nature of conversations, perhaps repeating what the other person has just said (this is known as echolalia) or talking at length about their own interests.

It helps if other people speak in a clear, consistent way and give people with autism time to process what has been said to them.