Autism is a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their environment.  It is a lifelong developmental disability that affects people in different ways - every autistic person is different to every other. 

Reviewed March 2024 (details below)

The content on this page is provided solely for information purposes and provides an overview of the subject matter covered. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are living with this disability, condition or chronic illness, please seek further information. The information on this page is subject to change without notice

Autism is not immediately apparent

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    Autism is a lifelong condition  – autistic children become autistic adults
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    Autism affects how people communicate and interact with the world
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    Globally an estimated 1 in 100 people are autistic 
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    Noise, smells, and bright lights can be painful and distressing
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    Autistic people  can have highly focused interests
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    Some autistic people are partially or totally non-verbal, meaning that they do not use speech to communicate, they may use sign or an assistive  device.

Autism is understood as a spectrum condition, as it affects people in different ways, and in different domains. Like all people, autistic people have their own strengths, challenges and support needs.

  • Areas of strengths vary but include logical or visual thinking, persistence, an eye for detail, good skills with technology, and a memory for facts and figures
  • Autistic people can have highly focused interests, often from a fairly young age. These interests may change over time or remain the same. Autistic people can become experts in their special interests and are often enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge
  • Up to 20% of autistic people have exceptional or above average skills in one or more areas such as reading, maths, art, mechanics, music or memory


Autistic people may have difficulties interpreting verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people have limited speech or use sounds, signs, gestures or pictures to communicate instead of spoken words.  Autistic people may:

  • communicate honestly and directly
  • take things literally and not understand abstract concepts like metaphors or sarcasm
  • have a dislike or difficulty with small talk, indirect messages or understanding jokes
  • repeat words or phrases in a way that can seem out of context
  • take extra time to understand spoken information or answer questions

Social interaction

Autistic people often find it very hard to navigate the social world. They can have difficulty recognising or understanding others' feelings and intentions. They may understand and express their emotions in a way that is not considered typical. 

  • be uncomfortable in busy, complex social situations
  • seek out time alone or next to others more than with them
  • have an ability to pay attention without making eye contact
  • use or respond to body language differently
  • not seek comfort from other people if they are not comfortable around them


Many autistic people avoid everyday situations because they experience the sensory world differently to others, including being very sensitive to certain sensations, or less sensitive to other sensations than other people. These include:

  • being constantly aware or more aware of some sensations (sounds, smells, tastes, touch, etc)
  • feeling distressed or overwhelmed if there are too many sensations at once (loud noises, lots of touching, bright lights etc.)
  • working hard to avoid distress by covering ears or finding quiet places to block out sensations
  • discomfort with touch such as clothing, tags or light touch from others
  • seeking sensory experiences, like running their fingers along certain fabrics or textures, listening to loud music, eating spicy food, moving their bodies in different not noticing internal sensations like hunger or pain
  • some autistic people seek out lots of sensory input, whilst others are overwhelmed by small amounts of sensory input

Experiencing or displaying emotions

Predictable routines can provide a sense of order and understanding to autistic people in a world where social norms can be elusive. Some autistic people may:

  • Find changes to routine very distressing and make them very anxious.
  • Want to follow similar routines, like wanting to travel the same way to and from school or work, wear the same clothes or eat the same food for breakfast.
  • Benefit from resources like Visual Schedules and Visual Stories/Social Stories which help to explain upcoming events


Look out for these Sunflower icons

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ASPECT Autism Australia 
Office for Autism SA


The content on this page has been reviewed by Autistic Nottingham (Feb 2024). Autistic Nottingham is founded and run by autistic adults without intellectual disabilities to bridge the gap in provision for Autistic adults who often find no appropriate services for their needs. We provide online and in-person social groups, post and pre-diagnostic support and many different activities for autistic adults without intellectual disabilities in Nottingham/shire. We also offer training courses for both autistic individuals and organisations looking to support autistic staff.

For further information, please visit

Autistic Nottingham logo


The content on this page is provided solely for information purposes and provides an overview of the subject matter covered. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information on this page is subject to change without notice


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