What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong, neurodevelopmental condition, which means that signs are often noticeable from an early age. Autism can affect how a person communicates and interacts with other people and how they experience the world around them. Autism is a “spectrum condition” meaning that difficulties will affect people in different ways. Some autistic children may not be able to speak at all, while others have much more subtle problems such as difficulty in social situations. Many autistic people are highly skilled in particular areas. In the UK, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum (1% of the population, National Autistic Society). Autism seems to affect more men and boys than women and girls, although this may be due to autism in women and girls being more difficult to diagnose. We have some specific resources on autism in women and girls below, but for even more please head over to our page for teens and young adults 

What are the signs of autism?

The signs of autism will vary from person to person. In children, anxiety can cause very similar symptoms. Parents may worry that their child is autistic if they, for example, are socially awkward or tending towards repetitive play, or perhaps very fussy about the feel of their clothing. However, all these behaviours can also be triggered by worry, anxiety or past trauma. To diagnose autism there should be persistent difficulties in three areas since early childhood and it requires a detailed assessment. 

  1. Social communication
  2. Social interaction
  3. Restricted and repetitive behaviours, activities, interests or routines

Diagnosing Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in Children and Young People (Royal College of Psychiatrists)

Autism helpline for Parents and Carers

If you are concerned your child may be autistic, you should see your GP to discuss whether a referral might be useful at this stage. Information or observations from the nursery or school will be really helpful as a part of the assessment (preferably in writing so it can be sent with any referral). Young people on the autistic spectrum may experience other difficulties too, such as anxiety, OCD, depression, ADHD, learning disabilities and gender dysphoria.

Watch this video from the National Autistic Society about autism

For Parents, Carers and Professionals



  • The National Autistic Society (NAS) is the leading UK charity for autism support. They provide information and support to families and professionals and run groups in local areas
  • Ambitious About Autism is a national charity for children and young people on the autism spectrum. They have an online autism forum giving information and support.
  • The Curly Hair Project is a website with short films and resources for young people, their carers and professionals too, plus online information events but most resources are not free.
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
    Autism spectrum disorder in under 19s: support and management. Provides information for older children, parents, carers and family members to help understand the diagnosis and the care the child or young person should be offered.
  • Asperger’s Syndrome FoundationPromoting awareness and understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome 
  • Box of ideas Practical advice & downloads for professionals and parents on topics such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, autism 
  • Young Sibs for siblings of disabled children
  • Findability Support for young people with special educational needs or a disability 


  • Habitica is an App that makes doing tasks into a game – fun for anybody but especially useful for young autistic people or those with ADHD.
  • Choiceworks can help children complete daily routines and tasks, understand and control feelings and improve their patience. It is only available on the app store, at a small cost.
  • DayCape allows therapists, teachers, parents, and even the child themselves to set up visual schedules (free)

Fact and Fiction books for Young People