Autism​ overview

Summary statement

Autism is lifelong, characterised by difficulties with social communication and interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviours or interests hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input.

What is autism?

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Autism is a lifelong condition affecting many areas of development including how a person:

  • Communicates with other people
  • Relates to other people
  • Relates to the World around them

This is a spectrum condition: while all people with autism share certain areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in different ways.

Difficulties processing the sensory world can affect a person’s ability to communicate and function independently in social situations. This can have a negative impact on education, recreation, employment and social integration.


A range of terms can be used, including:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Autistic spectrum difference
  • Neuro-diversity

Education professionals may prefer the less medical term ‘autism condition’. On this site, ‘autism’ is used throughout, in keeping with recent National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.

Role of speech and language therapy in autism

SLTs should be integral members of the multi-agency teams providing support to children and adults with autism.

SLTs have a unique role in:

  • Identifying the social and communication characteristics
  • Contributing to a differential diagnosis of those with autism
  • Identifying co-morbidities
  • Training others involved in the care and education of those with autism


Giving Voice – Autism

Giving Voice – Children Centres

Giving Voice – Complex Needs in Special Schools

For more videos visit the RCSLT YouTube channel.

Key Organisations

  • Autism Education Trust – partnership of organisations with an interest in autism which works to improve education for children with autism.
  • Autism Research Centre – led by Simon Baron-Cohen, includes research articles and a free downloadable social cognition assessment.
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