What autism

What Is Autism

If you are searching our website, it is very likely you are a parent or carer for an autistic child or young person, you are autistic yourself or you are researching in the professional field.

As the old saying goes, “when you meet one child with Autism, you’ve just met one child with Autism.”

It is estimated that there are around 700,000 people in the UK including one in 100 1children with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. If you include their families, autism is part of daily life for 2.8 million people. Each child is different. But in general terms your child might have problems relating to other people or find it tricky to feel part of everyday life. The range of abilities, skills, brilliance and need is so different for every child on the spectrum.

Autism doesn’t just affect children- autistic children grow up to be adults.

Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell if someone is autistic.

While autism Is lifelong and not curable, the right support at the right time can make a huge difference to people’s lives, early intervention is a must – do not wait to get the help your child may need.

Signs of Autism

Autism is tricky to diagnose before your child reaches 24 months but there might be signs in terms of some benchmarks not being met in how your little one communicates with smiles, expressions or gestures. You might also notice your child not making words by the time they turn 16 months, not responding to their name by their first birthday or loosing speech or social skills….but please don’t panic! Just contact your GP or health visitor and talk through your concerns.

When your child gets older signs of autism might include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Delayed speech
  • Getting really upset by changes in routine
  • Being seriously obsessed with certain interests like Tomas the Tank Engine or Superheroes.
  • Big reactions to sensory stimulus like smells, textures or lights.
  • Having trouble understanding other people’s feeling
  • Struggling with jokes or sarcasm
  • Really enjoying repetitive behaviours like flapping, clapping and fiddling

One of the most common difficulties is understanding and relating to other people, which has an impact on everyday life including family life, work, school and their social life. Its often difficult for a person with Autism to interpret both verbal and non-verbal language for example: Tone of voice or gestures, facial expressions, jokes, sarcasm. They also may tend to take things very literally for example they may find it hard to understand if you’re not saying exactly what you mean, or they think people mean exactly what they say, a common example of this is 'it's raining cat's and dogs' it's not but someone with Autism will not understand why you would say that if that's not actually happening.

But again, please don’t panic.

Autism is complicated. Your child’s uniqueness might be just that. On the other hand, if they are on the Autistic Spectrum, there is a lot of help out there for all of you. A diagnosis doesn’t change your child. It just makes the way you parent better informed and more effective. If you’re worried, go to your GP or Teacher and ask that your child be tested.

You can find more information on diagnosis via our Diagnosis section

Now What?

You may just have had your child’s diagnosis or be years down the line. Either way, REACH North West definitely has information you should know about. So if you’re looking for Funding & Grants, Diagnosis information, Airport or Other Travel information, Communication Courses, help with Benefits & Care, places to go and Days out, the fantastic UK Lanyard scheme, or how to Volunteer and get involved…. well, then you’ve come to the right place.

Autism is often defined and described in terms of deficits. This happens in order to determine what supports are needed, for program design and implementation, and level of funding; but always talking about what a person can’t do or do as well as their peers can have a huge impact on the child or young person and their families. Improvement can be difficult to see and small but significant gains are not celebrated. Talking about the deficits can also affect self-esteem and a person’s well-being.

We must never forget and here at REACH North West we strive to bring awareness of autism and especially the positives of autism.

It is so important that we also highlight and talk about the positive aspects of autism and stop dwelling on what is perceived to be the negative ones. The deficits will help understanding and get the support you need but do remembers autism has huge positives too. Thinking and speaking about autism in more positive terms will change thinking and responses towards someone with autism.

Here are some of the positives

  • Attention to Detail–thoroughness and accuracy around specific details is a great skill. This can be a real plus in jobs that require that skill such as quality control. Some more ideas for jobs can be found in this article by Temple Grandin.
  • Deep Focus– concentration levels can be very focused, allowing for freedom from distraction. My child can spend focused hours on an activity that he enjoys. My son can spend hrs on the computer doing presentations that are amazingly precise.
  • Observation Skills;– there is a listen, learn, look approach to learning. Facts are researched. For example, my son will watch an activity a number of times before he will join in, but when he does, he can do the task well.
  • Absorb and Retain Facts– the long-term memory is excellent with superior recall. I am always amazed at the facts my son tells me about things I said or we did years ago on a specific date or time.
  • Visual Skills– tend to be visual learners and detail focused. Temple Grandin’s book Thinking in Pictures really highlights this.
  • Expertise– there is in-depth knowledge on a topic and a high level of skills. My son can recite the whole history of Henry the 8 th, his wives and who was beheaded when where and how!
  • Methodical Approach– thought processes are analytical; can spot patterns and repetitions. Science, math and music are subjects that have patterns in them. Organizing and categorizing use these skills. My son plays the guitar once he has the pattern he is off.
  • Novel Approaches– unique thought processes and innovative solutions.
  • Creativity– a distinctive imagination and expression of ideas.
  • Tenacity and Resilience– determination and challenging opinions.
  • Accepting of Difference– less likely to judge others; may question norms. They love people for who they are.
  • Integrity– honest, loyal and committed.

Thinking about the positive aspects of autism can change the opinion of a potential employer too, open doors to new opportunities, make the community more inclusive, and change how we support people with autism at home, school, and in the community. Teach to the strength and talk to parents about their children in terms of those strengths. A positive approach will build strong relationships, which is the base for good development and quality of life. Celebrate a different way of thinking and what that can add to the world we live in – join us AND GET INVOLVED in raising awareness and change the thinking pattern about Autism!


1The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al (2012). Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care