What Is Autism

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

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

Below are some of the difficulties autistic people may share:

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When working with young people with autism this could be one that may be the most difficult to either identify or manage. 

Young people may struggle to interact which means they are invisible! 


They may have different approaches to interacting socially which may be difficult for others to understand.

They may:
- Appear unresponsive
- Not make eye contact
- Not make friends with peers

Young people with autism may articulate and able to communicate effectively however others may have various communication differences which may again be difficult to manage in a large group situation.

They may be:
- Repetitive
- Taking things literally 
- Needing extra time to process information or answers to questions
- Have inappropriate communication in relation to the situations
- May have their own dialogue
- Unable to communicate in a conversational interaction, struggle to answer or develop ongoing conversation

Repetitive behaviours in autism can vary radically from person to person.

It can seem a confusing and unpredictable world for autistic people, so it is often preferred for autistic people to have routine and structure to help understand what is going on. 

Repetitive behaviours are often displayed to help autistic people to remain calm when they are stressed however others just do so because they enjoy it. 

For some people, it involves saying or talking about the same things over and over again (for example, listing all of Marvel's Avengers and their powers, reciting scripts from TV, or asking the same question many times in a row). 

Or it could be actions they carry out over and over again, becoming an OCD action. 

When everything becomes too much for an autistic person, they can go into meltdown or shutdown. These are very intense and exhausting experiences.

A meltdown happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses behavioural control.  This loss of control can be verbal (eg shouting, screaming, crying) or physical (eg kicking, lashing out, biting) or both. Meltdowns in children are often mistaken for temper tantrums and parents and their autistic children often experience hurtful comments and judgmental stares from less understanding members of the public. 

A shutdown appears less intense to the outside world but can be equally debilitating. Shutdowns are also a response to being overwhelmed, but may appear more passive - eg an autistic person going quiet or 'switching off'. One autistic woman described having a shutdown as: 'just as frustrating as a meltdown, because of not being able to figure out how to react how I want to, or not being able to react at all; there isn’t any ‘figuring out’ because the mind feels like it is past a state of being able to interpret.'

The symptoms of autism in women aren’t very different from those in men. However, it is believed that women and girls are more likely to camouflage or hide their symptoms. This is particularly common among females at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. 

They might seem to have fewer social difficulties than autistic men and boys, but this could be because they are more likely to 'mask' their autistic traits (though the stress of doing so can result in anxiety and overwhelm).

Females tend to be diagnosed with other mental illnesses. 23% of women who are diagnosed with eating disorders have ASD symptoms—a percentage much higher than in the general public (3%). Autism and ADHD tend to co-occur, resulting in many females who are easily distracted being diagnosed with ADHD instead.

More women and girls than ever before are discovering that they are autistic, many of which had been missed or misdiagnosed.

The National Autistic Society have a range of resources and information available to help understand more about Autism, however here is a brief video that provides an overview of what Autism is: