Autism Aware
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The Autism Spectrum

Viewing time: 6 min

This section explains that although individuals with autism face shared challenges they can experience these challenges differently. It looks at the diagnostic terms and what they mean and why people on the spectrum can sometimes behave differently. It also gives a personal account of what the challenges of autism means to one individual on the spectrum.


Autism is a spectrum

This means that there is a wide variety of symptoms of autism

Although all people with autism will have shared challenges, no two people with autism will experience the condition in the same way. You might hear a person with autism or their family refer to themselves or the individual as being: “On The Spectrum”

This simply means that that person has autism and is thereby on the autistic spectrum

So the Autism Spectrum is a generalised scale to measure and categorise the severity of the traits or characteristics of autism that an individual experiences and the level of support they require

A Person With Autism Can Be Referred To As Having:


In other words, a person with “A.S.D” or who is “On The Spectrum” has AUTISM

Let’s take a look at what these diagnostic terms mean and  explore how they are used to describe a wide range of conditions and how they affect the lives of people diagnosed with “Autism”

Restricted and Repetitive Patterns of Behaviour

People with autism may have very restricted interests and can fixate on a particular object or area of interest

Interests & Special Interests

We all have different interests, like a favourite sports team, TV show or singer.
For people with autism, their special interests can sometimes be very intense and they may want to engage with them regularly or talk about them all the time
For people with autism, these interests can also be something they really enjoy and can help them to manage stress


Just like interests, we can have objects that we really like, like a particular toy.
For people with autism, they may have an object that they need to have at all times, or might constantly look for similar objects.

Repetitive Behaviours

Some people with autism may have behaviours that they like to do a lot, this is sometimes called ‘stimming’

And we all do it…….

These behaviours are used by people with autism because they like how they feel and it helps them to relax.
These behaviours can include rocking, spinning, bouncing, running, moving things in front of their eyes, flapping hands, chewing on things, lining things up, making certain noises or repeating certain words.

Routine and Predictability

People with autism can have problems with predicting actions or events in the future.
People with autism can also have difficulties with new or unfamiliar situations.

Many people with autism have difficulty in coping with unexpected changes.
Moving from one task to another can also be difficult for people with autism.

Social Cognition

Social cognition refers to our ability to understand how other people may be thinking or feeling and how we think about other people and how we perceive, process and interpret information about them.

People with autism have challenges with social cognition (social understanding) and may have difficulty in understanding how what they say or how they behave may affect another person
People with autism may appear less interested in other people because they tend to focus less on other people and more at non-social aspects of the environment, such as specific details of things around them.

These  difficulties in understanding others typically leads to problems in conversing with others including interpreting and responding to questions and turn-taking.

Social Communication

We communicate in many different ways:
When we communicate with another person or a group of people we use:
Body Language
Facial Expressions
People with autism have difficulties understanding all 3 of these forms of communication.


Some people with autism are non verbal and do not speak.
Some people with autism have some language but may not be able to speak in full sentences or have a conversation.
Many people with autism have a very literal understanding of language and may not understand sarcasm or slang.
Some people with autism might talk about their special interests and obsessions all the time.
Some people with autism will engage in echolalia. Echolalia is a repetition of what has already been said multiple times.


Some people with autism have very limited speech and  only use language to communicate their needs and wants.
Many people  and children with autism have difficulties in processing, retaining and understanding language.
Many people with autism are fully verbal but struggle with the subtleties of social language.
Many people with autism may have a very literal understanding of language and find the social parts of language, like idioms and sarcasm, very difficult to understand.

Before we go let’s listen to Christopher who is seventeen about the challenges that autism presents to him…

“Life with autism is sometimes like being on the outside looking in, by that I mean that it is difficult sometimes to process everything that is going on around you. Most people can cope with noisy, busy places  or always be ready for what’s going to happen next but people with autism cannot.

It’s like all of your senses are under attack and are being bombarded by everything around you. This can cause your mind to overheat  when it’s trying to process all this stuff . Just touching off somebody or something can drive you over the edge. So you react to this by shutting down or by blowing up as most people with autism become very stressed and anxious in these situations.”

Author: Laura Crowley - Director of Educational Support Services
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