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Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition which affects how an individual communicates with and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

The understanding and identification of autism has improved since the 1940s when it was first identified. There is no 'cure' but there are many things that can be done to help individuals with autism.

The Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Autism have recently produced a Review of the Scottish Strategy for Autism.

Spoken language

The signs and common traits with spoken communication includes:

  • delay in speech development
  • monotonous, flat sounding or robotic like speech
  • communicating in single words
  • repeating set words or phrases

Responding to others

People with autism may:

  • find it difficult to show and accept affection
  • not respond when their name is called, despite being able to hear
  • react in a negative way when asked to do something

Interacting with others

People with autism may:

  • appear to have little interest in others
  • want to interact with others but don't show it in typical ways
  • be unaware of people's personal space
  • not enjoy social situations such as parties or social gatherings
  • prefer to play or do things on their own
  • not make eye contact or make too much eye contact

In their behaviour

Some people with autism:

  • make repetitive movements such as rocking backwards and forwards, flapping their hands or flicking their fingers
  • insist on familiar routines and become very anxious or upset if this is disrupted or changed
  • have a strong dislike of certain foods based on the texture or colour as much as the taste
  • play with toys in a repetitive way, such as lining building blocks up rather than building with them

As well as these signs they may also:

  • avoid speaking
  • talk 'at' people rather than having a two-way conversation
  • fail to understand or use social rules
  • get upset if social rules are not used
  • take things literally and understand sarcasm, jokes, metaphors or other common figures of speech
  • have few friends and find it difficult to form new relationships
  • develop a very specific interest in a particular topic or subject
  • experience sensory difficulties in relation to vision, smells touch, sound and taste. This can mean that they may be either very sensitive or under responsive and look for additional stimulation

Autism is not a single condition, but a spectrum of closely related difficulties with shared characteristics. This means there can be individuals who are considered to be high functioning whilst others are on the lower functioning end of the spectrum. Every individual has some degree of problems with:

  • communication
  • social skills
  • sensory difficulties
  • flexible thinking

The level and ability of the combination of issues will vary greatly between individuals. No two people with autism have the same difficulties. This also includes differences between the way males with autism present and the way females present. For more information on these differences see the Autism Network Scotland website. Individuals with autism may also have difficulties understanding personal safety and other hazards in their environment.

For more information and a clear and concise guide, see Autism - a booklet for parents, carers and families of children and young people with autism.

Siblings are also affected by autism and we have created a resource, in partnership with three students from Biggar High School. The resource is called Your Story, My Story, our Story and gives an account of the 'lived experience' of these siblings. Education Resources have also produced a guide to strategies to support Children and Young People with Extreme Demand Avoidance.

The University of Leicester have created a series of short information films on different aspects of autism, which have been recorded in a number of different languages.

Related content

  1. Autism
  2. Where to get help
  3. Other resources