What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong, neuro-developmental condition, which means that signs are usually noticeable from an early age. It is not a mental illness, but symptoms of autism can be similar to symptoms of severe anxiety or after childhood trauma, so it isn’t always easy to diagnose.

Autism can affect how a person communicates and interacts with other people and how they experience the world around them. It 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.Scroll down for some resources specifically for women and girls who are autistic.

Click here if you are a young person

Autism Understood New website on autism specifically for young adults

What are the signs of autism?

The signs of autism will vary from person to person. In children, anxiety or stress can cause very similar symptoms. To diagnose autism there should be persistent difficulties in three areas since early childhood:

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

If you are concerned your child may be autistic, or you are a young person who thinks they may be autistic, you should see the SENCO in your child’s school or speak to your GP to discuss whether a referral might be helpful at this stage. Information from family 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. Referrals for possible autism in young people over 18 years may mean a long wait for assessment, depending on where you live.

Diagnosing Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in Children and Young People:Information from the Royal College of Psychiatry

National Autistic Society: What is autism? 

For Parents, Carers and Professionals

Books for Parents


  • 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 autistic 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 events but most resources are paid for.
  • NAS Education Rights and Advice Service provides impartial, confidential information, advice and support on education rights and entitlements for parents and carers of autistic school-age children to help them get the educational support their child needs.
  • 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 Foundation Promoting awareness and understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome 
  • Box of ideas Practical advice & fun ideas for professionals and parents on topics such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, autism 
  • Young Sibs for siblings of children with special educational needs or disabilities.
  • Findability Support for young people with special educational needs or a disability


  • Birdhouse for Autism offers caregivers the ability to keep track of behaviours, health and daily living tasks. 
  • 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 is for helping children complete daily routines and tasks, understand and control feelings and improve their patience. 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)
  • Children with Autism: A visual schedule  a wearable picture-based scheduler designed with children and adults with autism in mind
  • I Can Have Conversations With You!  Designed to help children with conversation and social skills- this link takes you to a review.


For Young People (See also the apps and websites above and those for girls and women below)

Books for all

Books for girls and young women