So, what is Autism?

Well, first of all let’s look at what Autism isn’t (and get the negatives out of the way)… 

  • It isn’t a medical condition with treatments or a ‘cure’,
  • Nor is it an infectious disease that can be spread to others. 
  • It isn’t the result of ‘bad parenting’ or kids 'behaving badly’.
  • And it isn’t something that you will just ‘grow out of’.
  • It’s also nothing to do with having your early years vaccinations!

These are all misconceptions that have been bandied about in previous years, and now mean we all need to work harder to undo and erase any negative societal stigma that can sadly still exist today.

Being autistic does mean that your brain works in a different way to other people; in a nutshell, it affects the way you communicate and interact with others. And this really can be something great! Recently a news story came to light about an amazing young boy who wrote a book about space specifically for those with autism and then after selling out on the initial run he committed to relaunching  the book so more autistic people could benefit from it. He is 10 and has autism and ADHD and none of these things have held him back. He is inspiring so many other children to see their autism as a “superpower” the way he does and hopes to become an astronaut one day! You can read more about Aston’s book here.

Aston's Book

Positive signs of autism

Autism is often described in terms of the deficits, and this is done so that the correct support can be determined. But always talking about what a person can’t do or focusing on the ‘shortfalls’ can be demoralising and will ultimately affect self-esteem. So, now we will look at what autism can mean, focusing on the many positives that exist but are less widely talked about.

Here is a list of attributes that can accompany people with autism:

  • Attention to detail - a keen eye for detail can be a fantastic skill and definitely useful for many different jobs.
  • Concentration - an ability to concentrate deeply on a task or book. Autistic people can often devour books without distraction more easily, which is amazing!
  • Visual skills - people with autism tend to be visual learners and hone into their visual side more.
  • Creativity - a distinctive imagination and expression of ideas, especially excellent for jobs in the arts or creative industries.
  • Fact retention - autistic people tend to have brilliant long-term memory and recall, and when isn’t that useful?
  • Accepting of differences - autistic people, by nature, are more accepting of others and less likely to judge people.
  • Integrity - there is a tendency amongst autistic people to be more honest, loyal and committed, highly regarded traits by society in general.

What are the common signs of autism?

There are a list of common tell-tale signs and these can be obvious from an early age. For example, someone with autism may:

  • Find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
  • Find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
  • Find things like loud noises or bright lights overwhelming or stressful
  • Get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social occasions
  • Need longer to process information
  • Repeatedly do or say the same things

Common types of behaviour to look out for

Some autistic children may behave in ways that can affect the whole family; some common behaviours are:

  • Stimming, which is short for self-stimulating behaviour, a repetitive kind of behaviour which includes things such as rocking, hand flapping, finger flicking, spinning, repeating words, noises or phrases 
  • Meltdowns, a total loss of control over behaviour usually caused by being completely overwhelmed
  • Being physically or verbally aggressive, which could cause harm to themselves or others

Autistic people sometimes use their behaviour to help them manage their feelings and make sense of what’s around them. Quite often, someone with autism may have other conditions such as: ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, epilepsy or depression. Autism is something people are born with, so someone diagnosed with autism will be autistic their whole life. Scientific studies suggest that genetic and environmental factors can lead to the onset of autism by influencing early brain development.*

Autism is a spectrum disorder which means that everybody with autism is different, with different symptoms and different behavioural traits, and sometimes you will hear it referred to as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Some autistic people need little or no support whilst others may need help from a parent or carer on a daily basis.

How to support someone with autism:

  • Making accommodations within the classroom can benefit an autistic student; including things like establishing routine and helping them manage changes and expectations; communicating clearly about projects, timescales and exams.
  • Employers are required by law to make reasonable adjustments within the workplace to help people with autism; these can include modifying work schedules/deadlines or having a regular timetable for projects; writing out clear instructions or breaking larger projects down into smaller sections.
  • Assistive technologies like visual schedule apps, AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) can help by promoting independence and social interaction; as well as visual mapping tools such as Inspiration.


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