Autism affects the way a person communicates with and relates to other people. It also
affects how they make sense of the world around them.
Everyday life for people with autism can be confusing, frightening and lack meaning. They
often find understanding and communicating with others particularly difficult, which can
leave them feeling isolated.
People with autism may also experience some form of sensory sensitivity or a lack of
sensitivity - for example, to sound, touch, taste, smell, light or colour.
They can experience a wide range of symptoms, which are often grouped into two main categories.
Problems with social interaction and communication
This can include problems understanding and being aware of other people's emotions and
feelings. It can also include delayed language development and an inability to start
conversations or take part in them properly.
Restricted and repetitive patterns of thought, interests and physical behaviours
This can include making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting,
and becoming upset if these set routines are disrupted.
Children, young people and adults with autism are often also affected by other mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety or depression.
About half also have varying levels of learning difficulties. However, with appropriate support many people can be supported to become independent.
Children with more severe symptoms and learning difficulties are likely to need more care and assistance to live independently as adults.
Other related characteristics of autism
Love of routines
The world can seem an unpredictable and confusing place to people with autism, which is why they often feel more comfortable with a fixed daily routine, so they know what's going to happen each day.
People with autism may experience sensory sensitivity in one or more of the five senses - including sounds, sights and smells - which they can find stressful. A person's senses are either intensified (hypersensitive) or lack sensitivity (hyposensitive). For more information on sensory sensitivity in autism, visit the NAS website.
Many people with autism have intense special interests, often from a young age. These can be anything, from art or music to trains and computers.
People with autism may have learning disabilities that can affect all aspects of their life, from studying in school to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal.