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How do we describe autism?

Autism is a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their environment. It is a lifelong disability that starts when a person is born and stays with them into old age. Every Autistic person is different to every other. This is why autism is described as a ‘spectrum’. Aspect describes autism as a different brilliant®

Defining autism

What are the myths and misunderstandings about characteristics of autism?

To adequately define autism practically is complex. There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about autism. But while many Autistic people experience difficulties, with the right support they can achieve a great quality of life.

There is also a misconception that the autism spectrum is linear. In fact, Autistic people display a wide range of characteristics. These encompass their strengths, communications, social interactions, leisure and play. Rather than a straight line, their characteristics appear more like a constellation.


Characteristics of autism

The characteristics of autism are widely varied. Some include:

  • Areas of strengths vary but include: logical or visual thinking, persistence, eye for detail, good skills with technology, and a memory for facts and figures
  • Very strong focus on specific interest areas
  • Deep interest in typical topics such as Pokémon, sport, Disney or trains or more unusual topics e.g. air conditioners or bins
  • Up to 20% of Autistic people have exceptional or above average skills in one or more areas such as reading, maths, art, mechanics, music or memory.
  • Communicate honestly and directly
  • A dislike or difficulty with small talk, sarcasm or understanding jokes
  • Repeating words or phrases in a way that can seem out of context
  • Not using or understanding gestures like pointing
  • Using sounds, signs, gestures or pictures to communicate instead of spoken words
  • Taking extra time to understand spoken information
  • Discomfort in busy complex social situations
  • Might prefer to play alone or next to others more than with them
  • An ability to pay attention without making eye contact
  • Using or responding to body language differently
  • Social interactions are often misunderstood by non-Autistic people
  • Preference for leisure based on passions
  • Non-traditional play such as repetitive lining up of toys
  • Preferring to do things in the same way
  • Comfortable socialising through technology such as phones, video conferencing or online chats and games
  • Being constantly aware or more aware of some sensations (sounds, smells, tastes, touch etc)
  • Feeling distressed or overwhelmed if there are too many sensations at once (loud noises, lots of touching, bright lights etc)
  • Working hard to avoid distress by covering ears, or hiding in quiet places to block out sensations
  • Discomfort with touch such as clothing, tags or light touch from others
  • Seeking sensory experiences by smelling food, flicking fingers in front of lights
  • Not noticing internal sensations like hunger or pain
  • An uneven pattern of thinking abilities
  • An ability to focus on one thing for a very long time
  • Difficulty switching from one thing to another
  • An ability to notice specific details, patterns or changes that other people are unaware of
  • A strong, sometimes overwhelming, emotional connection to others
  • Repeating movements such as flapping hands or pacing around to show excitement or to help cope with stress
  • Delay in learning to understand and regulate emotions
  • Difficulties understanding how non-Autistic people think in some situations (Just as non-Autistic people have difficulty understanding Autistic people)

Challenges associated with autism

Autism is often linked with physical, developmental or mental health conditions. These could include intellectual disability, epilepsy, gastro-intestinal issues, ADHD, dyspraxia, anxiety or depression.

However, many of the disabling challenges associated with autism come about when individuals don’t have respect, understanding and support. When they do, they can become much more comfortable in a non-Autistic world.

Autism Alert Card

Aspect has recently developed the Autism Alert Card. The card is designed to assist Autistic individuals to communicate their need for support to others, in situations that may be challenging. Aspect are offering these cards free to people on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Alert Card is an Autistic led initiative.

Autism is a different brilliant®

Aspect offers a comprehensive approach, based on the idea of a different brilliant®. This approach:

Useful Links


ASD is the acronym for autism spectrum disorder. This umbrella term was created in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association and covers:

  • Autistic disorder (autism)
  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Asperger syndrome

At Aspect we use the term autism rather than ASD for clarity. We also use the term ‘Autistic person’ to recognise, affirm and validate that individual’s unique identity, value and worth.

The term ‘Autistic’ simply refers to a person who is on the autism spectrum. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition. It impacts a person’s behaviours, communications, learning and interactions, and how they experience the world. It can create specific autism-related challenges as well as individuals who are a different brilliant®.

Sensory processing difficulties (SPD) can include hyper-sensitivity to odours, over-responsiveness to taste and textures. Autistic people have disruptions in brain connectivity on social and emotional pathways. People with SPD do not but may struggle more with sound processing.

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