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What is Autism?

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Support.

Autism is a developmental condition that affects how you interact with others and experience the world. Autistic people may behave differently to how non-autistic (sometimes called neurotypical) people behave or expect them to behave.

Autism is not a learning disability or a mental health condition, nor is it “curable”. It means your brain has a different way of thinking, feeling, behaving and coping with the world.

More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK.

Autism is both an invisible condition and a spectrum condition. This means it affects each person in a different way, and you won’t be able to tell if someone is autistic or how it affects them just by looking at them.

When you meet one person with Autism, you've met one person with Autism

If you’re autistic, you might:

● Find it difficult to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, and have trouble expressing your own

● Struggle to understand some parts of non-autistic people’s language, such as tone of voice or sarcasm

● Find it comforting to repeat certain movements – this is known as ‘Stimming’

● Prefer to have strict routines, such as always following the same route to school, and find changes to these routines difficult to cope with

● Have sensory differences, such as finding loud noises overwhelming

● Have intense interests and passions – sometimes known as ‘special interests’

● Find it really easy to learn some skills but struggle to learn other skills that may seem easy to non-autistic people

● Have ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’ when you’re feeling overwhelmed – often mistaken by non-autistic people as ‘temper tantrums’

Its been a slippery slope of emotions that's sometimes is difficult to understand.

If they diagnosed me younger I might of come to terms with it better.

It helped me define who I am and it got me out off trouble a lot.

Young Person, who completed an autism assessment

Autism in Girls

Autism often looks different in girls. Autistic girls may look like they’re coping and fitting in better with non-autistic people by ‘masking’ their autistic behaviours more than boys.

For example, autistic girls often seem able to cope better in social situations but they may be ‘masking’ by copying their friends’ behaviour and language. Autistic girls are sometimes described by people around them as just “shy” and can be quieter than autistic boys. Their behaviours and interests may also be very similar to those of non-autistic girls, so it isn’t always spotted.

Masking your behaviour to try to fit in better is exhausting and can affect your mental health. It can also lead to autistic burnout which causes long-term exhaustion, increased sensory sensitivities and even physical shut downs.

Autistic girls may look like they’re coping better, but it’s just as important that they are given the support they need.

Assessing For Autism

An autism assessment isn’t like a test or exam, it’s a meeting with a specialist to figure out how you think and experience the world. They’ll look at how you interact and communicate in social settings, as well as talk to you about your interests and behaviours in different places. For more detailed information on what happens in an autism assessment, check out our assessment procedure for young people page.

How Can A Diagnosis Help?

An autism diagnosis can help young people and their families access the right resources to support them in different parts of their lives. It may also help the people around better understand your behaviours and needs.

If a young person receive a diagnosis, they may be able to access:

● Support in school

● Support from your local council

● Support groups and club specifically for autistic young people

There is also a range of post-diagnostic support available, which is further discussed in the assessment procedure page, including support with:

● Education

● Social life

● Social care

● Finances

Support is available for your families, such as courses to better understand autism or support groups. Visit our resources hub for more information.