What is Autism?


About Autism

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

The definition of autism has changed over the decades and could change in future years as we understand more. Some people feel the spectrum is too broad, arguing an autistic person with 24/7 support needs cannot be compared with a person who finds supermarket lights too bright. It’s often found that autistic people and their families with different support needs share many of the same challenges, whether that’s getting enough support from mental health, education and social care services or being misunderstood by people close to them.

You cannot always tell that someone has autism just by looking at them. Because of this autism is sometimes called a hidden disability.

Autism lasts for all of a person’s life but they can still do a lot of things and learn a lot of skills.

Some people with autism find these following things difficult;

  • They find it difficult to tell people what they need, and how they feel.
  • They find it difficult to meet other people and to make new friends.
  • They find it difficult to understand what other people think, and how they feel.

Not everyone with autism will find these things difficult. This is because everyone with autism is different.

What causes autism?

The causes of autism are still being looked into. Many experts believe that there isn’t one specific ’cause’, and that there are genetic factors. We are always looking to understand more about autism, and welcome any research in this area.

Evidence suggests that autism may be genetic. Scientists have been attempting to identify which genes might be implicated in autism for some years. Autism is likely to have multiple genes responsible rather than a single gene. However, it is not caused by emotional deprivation or the way a person has been brought up.

There is no link between autism and vaccines. Much research has been devoted to this issue over the years and the results have comprehensively shown there is no link. Find out more on the NHS website.

Is there a cure?

There is no known ‘cure’ for autism.

This does not mean that autistic people do not face challenges, but with the right support in place, they are more than capable of living fulfilling and happy lives.

Because autism is a ‘spectrum’ condition it affects different people in different ways. It is therefore very difficult to generalise about how an autistic person will develop over time. Each person is different, and an intervention or coping strategy which works well with one person may not be appropriate or effective with another.

The characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations. Two people with the same diagnosis can have a very different profile of needs and skills.

People are also warned about fake cures and potentially harmful interventions here.

Being autistic

Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses. Below is a list of difficulties autistic people may share, including the two key difficulties required for a diagnosis.

  • Social communication & social interaction challenges
  • Repetitive & restrictive behaviour
  • Over-our under-sensitivity to light, sound, taste or touch
  • Highly focused interests or hobbies
  • Extreme anxieties
  • Meltdowns & shutdowns

How do people with autism behave?

Here is some information about people with autism.

They may not speak. But they may use things like pictures or sign language to communicate.

They may not understand what other people say.

They may copy what other people say.

They may only talk about their favourite subject.

They may not take part in games or activities with other people.

They may like to play the same game or do the same thing every day.

They may be very interested in one thing and know a lot about it.

They may be good at remembering information.

They may do well at school, college and work.

They may find co-ordination difficult. This means that they may find it difficult to do things like use scissors, use knives and forks, or ride a bike.

They may be very good at something. For example, they may be very good at maths, art or music.

They can be good at learning how to do something when they see someone else doing it.

They may be good at concentrating on one activity.

They may have learning disabilities.

They may have other difficulties. For example, they may have dyslexia.


Asperger syndrome

The term derives from a 1944 study by Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger (new evidence about his problematic history has recently been revealed and provoked a big debate).

Many people who fit the profile for Asperger syndrome are now being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder instead. Each person is different, and it is up to each individual how they choose to identify. Some people with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome may choose to keeping using the term, while others may prefer to refer to themselves as autistic or on the autistic spectrum. 

Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some people with Asperger syndrome also have mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels and types of support. People with Asperger syndrome see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you have Asperger syndrome, you have it for life – it is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel that Asperger syndrome is a fundamental aspect of their identity.

People with Asperger syndrome don’t have the learning disabilities that many autistic people have, but they may have specific learning difficulties. They may have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

With the right sort of support, all autistic people can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing


A diagnosis is the formal identification of autism, usually by a health professional such as a paediatrician or a psychiatrist. Having a diagnosis is helpful for two reasons:

it helps people with autism (and their families) to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them

it allows people to access services and support.

People’s GPs can refer them to a specialist who is able to make a diagnosis. Many people are diagnosed as children; their parents and carers can ask GPs for a referral.


For more in depth information regarding autism, please visit the website for The National Autistic Society by clicking the link here