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Autism, or autism spectrum conditions are conditions that affect social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

We use the term “autism” or “autistic spectrum condition”, as it is not a disease or illness, but a difference in the way a person’s mind works. You may hear sometimes hear people use the term ‘autism spectrum disorder’, as this is the formal label used in professional manuals and textbooks over the last few years. Increasingly the word ‘neurodiverse’ is being used to describe people with conditions.

Signs and symptoms

Autistic people tend to have problems with social interaction and communication.

In early infancy, some autistic children don’t babble or use other vocal sounds. Older children have problems using non-verbal behaviours to interact with others – for example, they have difficulty with eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures. They may give no or brief eye contact and ignore familiar or unfamiliar people.

Autistic children may also lack awareness of and interest in other children. They’ll often either gravitate to older or younger children, rather than interacting with children of the same age. They tend to play alone.

They can find it hard to understand other people’s emotions and feelings, and have difficulty starting conversations or taking part in them properly. Language development may be delayed, and an autistic child won’t compensate their lack of language or delayed language skills by using gestures (body language) or facial expressions.

Autistic children will tend to repeat words or phrases spoken by others (either immediately or later) without formulating their own language, or in parallel to developing their language skills. Some children don’t demonstrate imaginative or pretend play, while others will continually repeat the same pretend play.

Some autistic children like to stick to the same routine and little changes may trigger tantrums. Some children may flap their hand or twist or flick their fingers when they’re excited or upset. Others may engage in repetitive activity, such as turning light switches on and off, opening and closing doors, or lining things up.

Autistic children and young people frequently experience a range of cognitive (thinking), learning, emotional and behavioural problems. For example, they may also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or depression.

There is an overlap between having a learning disability and having an ASC. some autistic children will be of average to high cognitive ability but a large proportion will have a significant learning disability.

Getting a diagnosis

If you are someone who has always struggled with social situations, you might already wonder whether you have autism. Having an assessment might provide you with some answers to explain why you find certain things difficult, and help you also make the most of your strengths.

Many young people we see are already getting help at school or college. However, an autism diagnosis can help make sure this help is the best possible for you. For the young adults we see, a diagnosis can also help get the right support if you go on to college, university and work.

Not everyone seen for assessment receives a diagnosis of autism. We hope that whatever the outcome, the assessment will help you and those around you to understand and support you.

How we can help

We provide diagnostic and other assessments as well as psychological interventions for children, young people, adults and their families and social networks. We work as a multi-disciplinary team and offer, individual, family and group-based interventions, depending on what we think might help and what the patient and their family thinks might be useful to address their goals.

Further information

Find more information, including easy read information on the NHS.UK website.

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