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What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum.

Autism affects people in different ways. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Social communication

Autistic people have difficulties with understanding both verbal and non-verbal language, such as tone of voice or gestures. Some may be unable to speak or have limited speech, others have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. They may need additional time to process information or answer questions.

Social Interaction

Autistic people often have difficulty understanding or recognising other people’s feelings or intentions. They may also find it hard to express their own emotions, because of this Autistic people may find social interaction difficult and may find it hard to make friends or maintain relationships.

Routines and repetitive behaviour

Our world can seem a confusing and unpredictable place.

Sometimes Autistic people develop routines to help them manage this.  Examples of this may be that they wear the same clothes or always eat the same foods.

When routines are changed this can lead to anxiety and can be distressing.

Some Autistic people repeat movements such as hand flapping or swinging a leg or they use an object to make repetitive movements such as tapping a pen.  Often this is a way of calming themselves when they are feeling anxious.

Over (hyper) or under (hypo) sensitivity

Autistic people may experience over, or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain.

Many autistic people avoid situations because of their sensitivity issues.  Places such as supermarkets and workplaces can be particularly difficult as they are overwhelming.

Some people seek loud noises such as rock music or prefer foods that are spicy which stimulates their taste.

Special Interests

Many autistic people enjoy having special interests from a young age.

These interests can be lifelong or change on a regular basis.

Autistic people are often very knowledgeable about their special interests and enjoy sharing their expertise.

Sometimes they can be so highly focused on their interests, that they neglect other areas of their lives.

Meltdowns and Shutdowns

When things are overwhelming for an autistic person, they can experience meltdowns or shutdowns, which can be exhausting.

Meltdowns can involve both verbal loss of control such as screaming, shouting or crying or a physical loss of control such as kicking, hitting or biting or both.

Shutdowns are where an autistic person may become quiet, or switch off completely.  Some people become mute or withdraw completely.


Anxiety is a difficulty many autistic people face.  Anxiety can be due to difficulties over social interaction or in response to changes in routine.

Autistic people can learn to recognise the triggers and find coping strategies to help reduce their anxiety.