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In what ways does autism affect people?

Autism can affect how people perceive the world and interact with those around them. People on the autism spectrum can have difficulties with social communication and social. They may also have restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours. Autism is a spectrum condition which means the symptoms differ for each individual person.

People on the autism spectrum can be affected by:

Social communication differences

People on the autism spectrum may have difficulties interpreting spoken language and body language (Koegel, Valdez-Menchaca, & Koegel, 1994). Some autistic individuals have a very literal understanding of language which means they may struggle with jokes and sarcasm. Some may also find it difficult to have a reciprocal conversation, understand facial expressions and make eye contact.

For some, answering a why question can be extremely difficult as it is open-ended. An autistic person may ask and answer questions about something they find interesting but may avoid answering questions they find difficult or boring. Some may repeat phrases, words or parts of words that they have overhear, which is known as echolalia.

For some people on the autism spectrum, they may have little, no speech or delayed language development. They may understand what someone is saying, but perhaps struggle with expressing or responding. Some may also use alternative forms of communication, such as using pictures, gestures, sounds or sign language.

There are many components to communication and, for an autistic individual it may be difficult to process all the information as well as respond. Speaking clearly, using simple language and allowing time to respond can be helpful when communicating with people on the autism spectrum.

Social interaction differences

Social interactions and socialising can be difficult for some autistic people. They may struggle with recognising or understanding other people’s facial expressions and feelings. Some may also find it difficult to see things from someone else’s point of view and read social cues. Others may also find it a challenge to express themselves and their own emotions.

This does not mean that autistic people do not want to interact with others. In fact, it is the opposite, some do want to engage in social events and form friendships but may feel overwhelmed at the idea of new experiences.

Engaging in social interactions can be challenging for autistic people and for some it can lead to loneliness and isolation (Bauminger, Shulman & Agam, 2003). Social skills can be taught and developed by modelling social interactions, teaching reciprocity and using scripts and narratives.

Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, interests or activities

Repetitive behaviours and interests differ for each person on the autism spectrum. They can be a major part of an autistic person’s life as it can help them regulate their emotions, as well as provide joy and comfort. Repetitive behaviours and interests can emerge from an early age which may change over periods of time or be lifelong.

Repetitive behaviours, also known as stimming or self-stimulatory behaviours, may include hand-flapping, rocking, jumping or spinning. Other repetitive behaviours may include twirling a piece of string or flicking a rubber band.

Autistic people may also have highly-focused interests which can bring them a lot of happiness. Interests differ for each person on the autism spectrum, and can include anything such as numbers, transport, music or the solar system.

For some autistic people consistency and routine is a fundamental part of their life. As the world can be unpredictable and uncertain, many prefer to have specific routines and structures which helps them know what will happen every day and manage anxiety (Turner, 1999). For a lot of autistic people, these set routines and activities have to be completed in the right order. For example, they may always want to use the same route to travel to school or eat the same food for dinner.

To support an autistic person manage change a number of strategies can be used, including using visual pictures and symbols, preparing for change and describing in clear language what will happen.


Bauminger, N., Shulman, C., & Agam, G. (2003). Peer interaction and loneliness in high-functioning children with autism. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 33(5), 489-507.

Koegel, L. K., Valdez-Menchaca, M. C., & Koegel, R. L. (1994). Autism: Social communication difficulties and related behaviors. In Advanced abnormal psychology (pp. 165-187). Springer, Boston, MA.

Turner, M. (1999). Annotation: Repetitive behaviour in autism: A review of psychological research. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 40(6), 839-849.

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