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What is autism?

Autistic people may act in a different way to other people

Autistic people 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 bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
  • get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
  • take longer to understand information
  • do or think the same things over and over
Information:

If you think you or your child may be autistic, get advice about the signs of autism.

Autism is not an illness

Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people.

It's something you're born with or first appears when you're very young.

If you're autistic, you're autistic your whole life.

Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a "cure". But some people need support to help them with certain things.

Autistic people can live a full life

Being autistic does not have to stop you having a good life.

Like everyone, autistic people have things they're good at as well as things they struggle with.

Being autistic does not mean you can never make friends, have relationships or get a job. But you might need extra help with these things.

Autism is different for everyone

Autism is a spectrum. This means everybody with autism is different.

Some autistic people need little or no support. Others may need help from a parent or carer every day.

Some people use other names for autism

There are other names for autism used by some people, such as:

  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – the medical name for autism
  • autism spectrum condition (ASC) – used instead of ASD by some people
  • Asperger's (or Asperger syndrome) – used by some people to describe autistic people with average or above average intelligence
More about Asperger's

Unlike some people with autism, people with Asperger's do not have a learning disability.

Some people call this "high-functioning" autism.

Doctors do not diagnose people with Asperger's anymore.

But if you were diagnosed with it before, this will stay as your diagnosis.

It's not clear what causes autism

Nobody knows what causes autism, or if it has a cause.

It can affect people in the same family. So it may sometimes be passed on to a child by their parents.

Autism is not caused by:

  • bad parenting
  • vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine
  • diet
  • an infection you can spread to other people

Autistic people can have any level of intelligence

Some autistic people have average or above average intelligence.

Some autistic people have a learning disability. This means they may find it hard to look after themselves and need help with daily life.

Autistic people may have other conditions

Autistic people often have other conditions, like:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia
  • anxiety or depression
  • epilepsy

Page last reviewed: 18 April 2019
Next review due: 18 April 2022