What is Autism?

Mother playing game on ipad with daughter.

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” Stephen Shore, 2018.

Autism affects people in many different ways, both positively and negatively, hence why it’s called a spectrum condition. Callum, who was diagnosed with autism at 8 years old, for example, excels in recalling dates and events of a specific topic but struggles with his brain processing in communication. Other autistic persons will not have exactly the same strengths and challenges as Callum. This guide describes the different strengths and challenges an autistic person may face daily. It’s also important to note that there is no fixed mold for how an autistic person would or wouldn’t behave. Autism is still currently seen as more problematic than advantageous, and we will cover the challenges first.

Potential Challenges for an Autistic Person


Difficulties with Social Interactions

By far, the most cliché challenge that autistic people can have is forming meaningful relationships in social settings. The reasons for this can include:

  • Disliking small talk
  • Having different interests from others within their age group
  • Difficulties in reading body language and other forms of non-verbal communication
  • Finding it easier to talk about fewer subjects related to their main interests

Repetitive Behaviours

An autistic person may adopt the following repetitive behaviours:

  • Keeping to a rigid structure or routine at work or school
  • Repeating certain movements, such as hand flapping, rocking or excessive fidgeting
  • Wearing the same colour or style of clothes
  • Travelling to work or school in the same way each day

Unexpected situations or changes in routines can be distressing for an autistic person. They may use the repetitive behaviours listed above to keep themselves as calm as possible in an overwhelming situation.

Extreme Anxiety

Social situations or an unexpected change can be very overwhelming for an autistic person. Two types of anxiety that an autistic person can have are as follows:

  1. A meltdown is when an autistic person loses control of their emotions in the event of an overwhelming situation. A meltdown could easily be mistaken for a tantrum. However, a person having a tantrum is in full control of their emotions and usually engages in such behaviour to achieve a set goal. However, the contrary applies to an autistic person having a meltdown, and there is no set time for when a meltdown can end.
  2. A shutdown is exactly the opposite of a meltdown. It means that an autistic person becomes completely unresponsive in the event of an overwhelming situation.

The following scenarios can be very overwhelming for an autistic person:

  • Unfamiliar social settings
  • Unexpected changes to their routine
  • Intense frustration built up over a long period of time
  • Being exposed to low-key repetitive noises such as eating noises or keyboard typing noises (this is a condition called Misophonia and also known as Sound Selective Syndrome)
  • Unsuitable room conditions