What is Autism?

Having autism means that the person has a different way of understanding other people and the world around them. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder, not an illness or a disease so there is no ‘cure’ but there are many ways that difficulties can be managed.

Here are some of the things you might see, in various combinations and from mild to severe, in people who have autism:


Difficulties with communication

  • Taking what people say literally (thinking people mean exactly what they say)
  • Not understanding jokes or sarcasm
  • Preferring facts and logic
  • Finding it hard to understand facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures.
  • Only feeling comfortable when talking about topics they are interested in
  • Repetitive in what they say

Difficulties with socialising and interacting with other people

  • Not wanting to make eye contact
  • Feeling awkward and not knowing what to say or do in social situations
  • Difficulties making and keeping friends and romantic relationships
  • Preferring to be alone and only doing activities they feel comfortable to do
  • Finding it hard to take turns when playing games
  • Not liking to be touched or comforted by other people
  • Difficulty with seeing things from other people’s point of view

Difficulties with imagination

  • People with autism can struggle with make believe play or storytelling
  • It can also be hard to imagine what other people might be thinking or feeling

Special interests

  • Having special interests that they invest their time and energy into
  • Becoming very knowledgeable about a specific topic and spending a lot of time involved in the topic

Sensory differences

People with autism may be overly sensitive to sounds, smells, touch, pain or light, finding these things uncomfortable, frightening or painful. Some people do not appear sensitive to these things at all.


People with autism can find change and transition (going from one thing to another) hard, so they prefer familiar and strict routines.

These differences that people with autism may experience can make everyday life overwhelming.

  • Often people can feel worried and stressed by everyday activities such as going to school, meeting people and trying new things.
  • Difficulties with social communication and interaction and the differences in their interests, strengths and talents can make them feel left out and misunderstood by other people, which can lead to problems with low mood and low self- esteem

helpful to know

As everyday life activities can be challenging and cause stress and anxiety, some people find it helpful to learn ways of managing their anxiety. Check the help section on our website for ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Depression’ for helpful information, websites and apps.

If you have a diagnosis of autism or you are waiting for an assessment to see whether you have autism, it can be helpful for you and the people who support you to use the techniques and strategies known to help people with autism manage the difficulties they are experiencing. Click on the website and video links below for more information, advice and support.

local help and support

For more information about help and support in Essex please click here

For more information about help and support in Hertfordshire please click here

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