Autism spectrum condition

Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.

Each person with autism will be affected differently, hence autism is known as a spectrum disorder (ASD). Some individuals with autism will live relatively independent lives, whilst others may have additional learning difficulties that require long-term specialist support.

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What is autism

The main areas of difficulty or differences for those with autism are:

  • social communication
  • social interaction
  • social imagination/ repetitive behaviours
  • sensory sensitivity

You can read more about autism on the National Autistic Society website.  

If you are a parent and something is bothering you about the way your child is behaving, or if their behaviour seems very different from the way other children of a similar age behave, write down or record your observations. That way you can remember exactly what you saw or felt, and you’ll be able to tell whether what you saw gets better or worse. These notes will also help you remember what your concerns are if your child is referred for assessment.

If you are still concerned, you can talk to your GP, health visitor or school. Carefully explain what you have observed. A practitioner like a GP or health visitor may be able to calm your fears quickly or refer your child for an assessment. You can also speak to the education setting or school about your concerns and they will be able to share their observations.

A person with autism could be displaying difficulties or differences with:

  • their speech development
  • responding to others, physically or verbally – they may need extra time to process information
  • interacting or playing
  • their behaviour - they may become overwhelmed and display behaviours that you find very challenging
  • sensory issues - they may be over or under-sensitive to things such as touch, sounds, smells, tastes, colours or light.

The above is only a brief overview, as those on the autistic spectrum are all very individual in how they are affected.

It is not clear what causes autism, or if it has a cause. It can affect people in the same family, so it may sometimes be passed on to a child by their parents.

Autism is not caused by:

  • bad parenting
  • vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine
  • diet
  • an infection you can spread to other people

Other names for autism

Asperger syndrome is part of the autistic spectrum and those with Asperger’s are known to have fewer problems with speaking and can be of average or above-average intelligence. Doctors no longer diagnose people with Asperger's, anymore but if you were diagnosed with it before, this will stay as your diagnosis.

You can read more about Aspergers on the National Autistic Society website

People with a demand avoidant profile can appear to have better social understanding and communication skills than others on the autism spectrum, and are often able to use this to their advantage. They may however not really have as good an understanding of social matters as would initially be apparent.

The distinctive features of a demand avoidant profile include:

  • resists and avoids the ordinary demands of life
  • uses social strategies as part of avoidance, e.g. distracting, giving excuses
  • appears sociable, but lacks understanding
  • experiences excessive mood swings and impulsivity
  • appears comfortable in role play and make-believe situations
  • displays obsessive behaviour that is often focused on other people.  

People with this profile can appear controlling and dominating, especially when they feel anxious. However, they can also be enigmatic and charming when they feel secure and in control. It’s important to acknowledge that these people have a hidden disability.

Demand Avoidance is a part of autism and cannot be diagnosed separately. It can be seen in any condition and is related to significant anxiety. Demand avoidance can be helped if anxiety is reduced.

If you are a parent and think that your child presents with behaviours which you have read or think may indicate demand avoidance, then we would recommend that you go through the usual Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnostic assessment. You can share the concerns about your child’s behaviours with your assessment team, who can then discuss with you the range of strategies that might help you and your child.

The local position statement for demand avoidant profile can be found in the downloads section of this page. 

Further information on demand avoidance is available on the National Autistic Society website.

Seeking advice or referral for assessment

Children and young people 

If you are concerned about autism, you should first talk to your GP, health visitor or school. They will be able to discuss your concerns with you and if appropriate, access a referral for a health assessment with a community paediatrician. Your teacher or social worker if you have one, will also be able to offer advice and support.

It can take a while before your child receives a diagnosis, a pathway to receiving a diagnosis can be found on the children’s community health partnership website.

An assessment will be made through detailed discussion of history, examination and observations.  often a diagnosis will often be made by a number of professionals.

For adults 

For adults, all referrals for assessment will go to Bristol autism support services (BASS) for adults. BASS will assess and diagnose people who are referred to by their GP but as well as also provide post-diagnostic support, advice and training.

BASS have produced a number of guides for adults with autism and their family which can be found on their website

BASS run a weekly advice sessions in Yate. Details about this service are available on their website.   

Training and support for parents of children with autism

If your child is under 5 years old and has been diagnosed with autism, the team who diagnosed your child will ask if you would like to be added to the waiting list for the NAS Early Bird programme. You will be contacted when a space is available.  Early Bird is a parent support programme for families of children under the age of 5 with a diagnosis of autism. Designed by the National Autistic Society (NAS) the programme is delivered by Early Bird trainers over 3 months. 

Further details about the Early Bird programme is available on the NAS website.  

Southern Brooks  provide the Barnardo’s Cygnet programme for parents with children aged 5-18 with Autism. Their website provides details on how you can book onto the programme.   

You can find further information about local support and training for parents by reading Support for Parent Carers

You can find further information about autism resources to support you in our ‘Autism resources’ article [insert link when article published]. This article also includes information about training for service providers in South Gloucestershire.

How South Gloucestershire Council and its partners are improving support for autism

South Gloucestershire autism planning group

The South Gloucestershire autism planning group (APG) is a multi- professional group with carer and user representation that meets on a bi-monthly basis with the aim of reviewing and considering national and local guidance and policy relating to adults with autism.

The group also oversees the development of a long term strategy to improve local support for people with autism. The group supports the development of services for people with autism and works with other providers to ensure that non-specialist services are accessible for people with autism.

Local Autism Group for Children and Young People

This is a multi-professional group which meets quarterly and includes representation from parents/carers, managers, commissioners and clinicians. The key aim of the group is coordinate and collaborate regarding services and interventions to enable the needs of children and young people with ASD and their families to be met across South Gloucestershire.

Further information and support

You can search for local organisations and support on Wellaware.

Mind You website has local information about autism.

The National Autistic Society has a lot of information that will help to understand the behaviour of autistic people and what causes that behaviour.

NHS choices explains about many conditions including autism.

South Gloucestershire has an autism toolkit for schools and education settings.

The government’s ‘Think Autism’ adult strategy and supporting information is available to read on Gov.UK.

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