Love of routines
"One young person with autism attended a day service. He would be dropped off by taxi, walk up to the door of the day service, knock on it and be let in. One day, the door opened before he could knock and a person came out. Rather than go in through the open door, he returned to the taxi and began the routine again."
The world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to people with autism, who often prefer to have a fixed daily routine so that they know what is going to happen every day. This routine can extend to always wanting to travel the same way to and from school or work, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
Rules can also be important: it may be difficult for a person with autism to take a different approach to something once they have been taught the 'right' way to do it. People with autism may not be comfortable with the idea of change, but can cope well if they are prepared for it in advance.
"Rowan loves art but he hates wearing a shirt to protect his clothing - the feeling of the fabric against his skin causes him distress. We have agreed with his school that he can wear a loose-fitting apron instead."
People with autism may experience some form of sensory sensitivity. This can occur in one or more of the five senses - sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. A person's senses are either intensified (hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (hypo-sensitive).
For example, a person with autism may find certain background sounds, which other people ignore or block out, unbearably loud or distracting. This can cause anxiety or even physical pain.
People who are hypo-sensitive may not feel pain or extremes of temperature. Some may rock, spin or flap their hands to stimulate sensation, to help with balance and posture or to deal with stress.
People with sensory sensitivity may also find it harder to use their body awareness system. This system tells us where our bodies are, so for those with reduced body awareness, it can be harder to navigate rooms avoiding obstructions, stand at an appropriate distance from other people and carry out 'fine motor' tasks such as tying shoelaces.
"My art activity has enabled me to become a part of society. When there is something that a person with autism does well, it should be encouraged and cultivated."
Many people with autism have intense special interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be life-long, and can be anything from art or music, to trains or computers. Some people with autism may eventually be able to work or study in related areas. For others, it will remain a hobby.
A special interest may sometimes be unusual. One person with autism loved collecting rubbish, for example; with encouragement, this was channelled into an interest in recycling and the environment.
"I have a helper who sits with me and if I'm stuck on a word she helps me. It makes a big difference."
People with autism may have learning disabilities, which can affect all aspects of someone's life, from studying in school, to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal. As with autism, people can have different 'degrees' of learning disability, so some will be able to live fairly independently - although they may need a degree of support to achieve this - while others may require lifelong, specialist support. However, all people with autism can, and do, learn and develop with the right sort of support.
Other conditions are sometimes associated with autism. These may include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia.
Who is affected by autism?
Autism is much more common than most people think. There are over half a million people in the UK with autism - that's around 1 in 100 people.
People from all nationalities and cultural, religious and social backgrounds can have autism, although it appears to affect more men than women. It is a lifelong condition: children with autism grow up to become adults with autism.
What causes autism?
The exact cause of autism is still being investigated. However, research suggests that a combination of factors - genetic and environmental - may account for changes in brain development.
Autism is not caused by a person's upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.
Is there a cure?
At present, there is no 'cure' for autism. However, there is a range of interventions - methods of enabling learning and development - which people may find to be helpful. Many of these are detailed on this website: www.autism.org.uk/approaches
What is a diagnosis?
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:
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.
Some professionals may refer to autism by a different name, such as autism or autistic spectrum conditions (ASC), classic autism or Kanner autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) or high-functioning autism (HFA).