Autism is a lifelong, developmental condition that affects the way a person communicates, interacts and processes information.

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What is autism?

What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental difference in the way a person communicates, interacts and processes the world around them.

There are more than 1 in 100 autistic people in Scotland. Every autistic person has skills, talents and aspirations. Whilst some people will have subtle differences in their thinking and processing style, others will have more complex needs requiring more intensive support.

Autism is typically diagnosed in childhood however a large number of people aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. This can be for a variety of reasons, and is a very personal decision. During the diagnostic process, diagnosticians will look for key developmental differences that usually occur thoughout childhood. Everyone develops differently and at their own pace, however there are key areas of a person’s development that indicate if they are autistic. This includes how the person interacts, communicates and processes the world around them.

Being aware of an autistic person’s developmental profile helps to us to gain a deeper understanding of the person and how to offer support. Being autistic is an important part of someone’s identity.


Greater societal awareness and understanding of autism is needed. With improved understanding and greater acceptance of autism, autistic people can be better supported to use their skills and talents to meaningfully contribute to the world around them.




Autism impacts on verbal and non-verbal communication. It can affect the ability to understand, process and use language. Therefore some autistic people can have very good language skills but may struggle to understand the nuances of conversation such as tone of voice or non-verbal language such as gestures and body language. Whereas some autistic people may have limited or no verbal language and therefore will not be able to express themselves verbally. For these people, communication aids such as pictures, Makaton and some apps can be really helpful, enabling them to communicate their choices, needs and preferences. You may also find that some autistic people have a real enthusiasm for particular interests, therefore having a drive to share this enjoyment with others, or enjoy learning about these specific topics.


Forming friendships and relationships might look different from what we expect, however this does not mean that autistic people are not social or lack the desire to form relationships. It may be that someone finds understanding the feelings and intentions of others tricky, or perhaps how to go about meeting people is difficult. This could be because the person is worried they won’t be accepted for who they are or they are not sure how to initiate conversation in an unfamiliar context. Socialising can be difficult and can cause considerable anxiety for some, and for others they may thrive in social situations where they can share their experiences, identity and what brings them joy. 

The idea of social imagination is complex; it is not limited to creative, aesthetic or play activities. We are required to use social imagination in many aspects of daily life. Differences in this area of processing may mean that an autistic person finds it hard to adjust to different social situations, switch focus or attend to lots of things at once. We might want to consider here how we can prepare and support someone to understand what to expect and what might be expected of them in a particular context. 

Autistic people may process sensory information differently. They may experience differences in how they process sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. Being in an uncomfortable sensory environment can cause great anxiety or even pain to some people. It can lead to someone avoiding everyday places such as shopping centres and supermarkets because the lights, sounds and smells are overwhelming. Small adjustments to these environments can make the space more accessible for autistic people.