What Is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that affects how people see the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently. Autism is not an illness or disease and can’t be ‘cured’. People often feel that being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity.

Autistic people share certain challenges, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning incapabilities, mental health issues or other conditions. With the right sort of support, autistic people can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choice.

How Do Autistic People See the World?

Some autistic people say the world feels overwhelming and this can cause them anxiety. Understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be harder for them. Autistic people may wonder why they are ‘different’ and feel their social differences mean people don’t understand them. They often do not ‘look’ disabled.

How Common Is Autism?

Autism is more common than what people think. According to research, there are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. People from all cultural, religious and social backgrounds can be autistic, although it is found to affect more men than women.


Multi-disciplinary diagnostic teams, often including a speech and language therapist, paediatrician, psychiatrist and/or psychologists are needed for the diagnosis of autism.

Why is diagnosis important?

Diagnosis helps autistic people and their families to understand why they experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them. Diagnosis also allows people to access services and support more easily.

Diagnosing autism

The characteristics of autism differ from one person to another, a person will usually be assessed as having difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests since early childhood, to the extent that these “limit and change their everyday functioning”.

  • Social Communication

Autistic people have difficulties with interpreting verbal and non-verbal language. Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say. They may find it difficult to use or understand facial expressions, tone of voice, jokes and sarcasm.

Some of them may not speak, or have limited speech. They will often understand more of what other people say to them than they can express, yet may struggle with abstract concepts. Some autistic people prefer using alternative means of communication, like sign language or visual symbols. Some can communicate very effectively without speech.

Some have good language skills, but may still find it difficult to understand the expectations of others within conversations. It helps to speak in a clear and consistent way to give autistic people time to process what has been said to them.

  •  Social Interaction

Autistic people often find it difficult to read other people feelings and intentions and expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard for them to fit into the social world.

Other people find them to be insensitive because they may seek out time alone when overloaded by other people and appear to behave in a way thought to be socially inappropriate. Autistic people may find it difficult to make friends. Some may want to interact with other people and make friends, but may be unsure how to go about it.

  • Repetitive Behavior and Routines

The world can seem unpredictable and confusing to autistic people, who often prefer a daily routine so that they know what is going to happen every day. They may want to always travel the same way to and from school or work, or eat the same food for breakfast.

It may often be difficult for an autistic person to take a different approach to something once they have been taught the ‘right’ way to do it. Autistic people may not be comfortable with the idea of change, but may be able to cope better if they can prepare for changes in advance.

  • Sensory Sensitivity

Autistic people may also experience background sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. They may find certain background sounds, which other people ignore loud or distracting. This can cause anxiety. Or they may be fascinated by lights or spinning objects.


What Causes Autism?

The cause of autism is still being investigated. Researchers have found that a combination of factors, both genetic and environmental, may account for differences in development. Autism is not caused by a person how a person was raised or their social circumstances .

Is There A Cure?

There is no ‘cure’ for autism. But, there are strategies and approaches, methods of enabling learning and development, which people may find to be helpful.

How you can help?

You can help autistic people and their families by:

  • Spreading understanding about autism.
  • volunteering in one of their schools, care services or office fundraising.