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Robert Bloomfield


Autism is a developmental condition that affects how someone sees the world and interacts with other people. Because it is a spectrum condition, autism affects people in different ways – and individuals can experience different aspects of the condition to greater or lesser extents.

While experiencing one or more of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean someone is autistic, most autistic people tend to experience the following things to some extent:

  • difficulty recognising or understanding other people's feelings, and expressing their own
  • being over- or under-sensitive to things like loud noises and bright lights, and finding crowded noisy spaces challenging
  • preferring familiar routines and finding unexpected changes to those routines challenging or distressing
  • having intense and specific interests in certain things
  • difficulty reading body language and facial expressions, and understanding figurative language such as irony and sarcasm

Depending on your child’s age, some other things you may notice could include sensitivity to certain clothes or textures, sensitivity to particular foods, tastes or smells, or thinking about things very literally.

It’s useful to understand that autism can present differently in girls and can be missed – meaning that a diagnosis may not be given until much later.

Getting an assessment or diagnosis

If you think your child may be autistic and they have not been referred for an assessment, speak to a professional. They can talk things through with you and help you get a referral if your child needs one. You can speak to:

  • your GP
  • a health visitor, who your family may be in touch with if your child is under five
  • your child’s teacher
  • the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) or special educational needs (SEN) staff at your child’s school
  • a private healthcare provider, if this is an affordable option for you
  • any other kind of health professional you or your child sees, such as a therapist

It’s a good idea to prepare what you want to say before speaking to a professional. It often helps to make a list of times you have noticed certain behaviours or times when your child has been particularly distressed, including any triggers.

If you do not think the professional is taking you seriously, try speaking to someone else from the list. You can also ask your surgery for an appointment with a different GP.

If your child is referred for an assessment, a team of specialists will see them and you will then receive a report with their decision. It’s worth bearing in mind that this can be a relatively long process, and that you may have to wait for a decision. If you are unhappy with the assessment outcome, you can ask your GP to arrange for a second opinion.

Looking after yourself

Supporting a young person who is struggling can be really hard. It’s important to recognise the impact the situation is having on you, and to think about ways you can take care of yourself – including by getting support from other people so that you can take some time off.

Remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it, and to share your worries with someone you trust. If you need more help, you can find support services for yourself by speaking to your GP or seeing a private counsellor or therapist.

Parents in this situation have found it helpful to connect with other parents going through similar things. You could do this by:



National Autistic Society

Supports autistic people and their families. You can contact them for help with educational rightsschool transitionseducational tribunalsschool exclusions and inpatient care

You can also access their parent-to-parent emotional support service.