What is Autism?

Healthcare professionals and researchers use the term autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to describe and diagnose a group of similar conditions. Over the years, different words have been used to describe ASD, including autism, atypical autism and Asperger’s syndrome. For diagnosis, it’s helpful to include all these conditions in one term, namely autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder is now the most common diagnosis.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability affecting social skills, communication skills, and behaviour.

What are the signs of possible autism in school-age children?

You may notice that your child has difficulties in the following areas.

Speech and Language

  •        have had unusual language development when they were younger
  •        use different language to that of other children their age
  •        sound unusual when they speak
  •        repeat words or phrases they have heard rather than responding to them
  •        refer to themselves as ‘you’, ‘she’ or ‘he’ after the age of three
  •        use unusual words for their age
  •        use only limited language or talk freely only about things they are interested in
  •        have difficulty using or noticing non-spoken communication signals.

Social Communication

  •        not be interested in playing with other children
  •        try to join in inappropriately with other children’s play (for example, your child may seem aggressive)
  •        behave in a way that other people find difficult to understand (for example, they may criticise teachers or not do as they are told)
  •        have difficulty understanding other people’s feelings and perspectives
  •        be easily overwhelmed by being around other people
  •        not relate normally to adults (for example, they may be too intense or not have any relationship at all)
  •        not like people coming into their personal space or being hurried


  •        Difficulties with interests, activities and behaviours.
  •        struggle to take part in pretend play with other children or play in which they need to co-operate and take turns
  •        find large open spaces difficult (for example, they may stay at the edge of the playground)
  •        find it difficult to cope with changes or situations that aren’t routine, even ones that other children enjoy (for example, school trips or teachers being away).
  •        show differences between their ability at school and how they cope in social situations (for example, they may have difficulties with school breaks or work breaks, but manage with the lessons or work)
  •        not be streetwise (in other words, not have the skills and knowledge needed to deal with modern life)
  •        not be as independent as other people the same age as them.


  •        they may be quiet, talk at other people rather than have a two-way conversation, or may provide too much information on things they are especially interested in
  •        not be able to change the way they communicate in different social situations (for example, they may sound more adult than other people their age, or be overfamiliar with adults)
  •        not understand sarcasm – for example, when someone is making fun of something; or make eye contact, gestures and facial expressions at unusual times.

Social situations

  •        make friends easier with adults or younger children than with their own age group
  •        not share the same attitudes or interests as others in their own age group
  •        dislike someone getting physically close to them or not know how close they should get to someone else.
  •        prefer very particular interests or hobbies, or may enjoy collecting, numbering or listing things
  •        have a strong liking for familiar routines, or may have repetitive behaviour
  •        show difficulty in using their imagination (for example, in writing or planning ahead).

Not all young people with autism will show all the signs listed or if a child shows some of these signs it may not mean they have autism.


What do I do if I think my child is autistic?

All children and young people develop in different ways and at different rates, so it is difficult to know whether the behaviours your child is displaying should be a concern.

The Healthy Child Programme team provide information and advice about what to expect with child development on the Just One Norfolk website

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by phone or text.

If you are still concerned you can speak to your GP who may consider making a referral to the neurodevelopmental team. For more information on this process go to the Just One Norfolk website 

You can also speak to the SENDCo at Falcon who in consultation with your child’s class teacher can help make a referral to the neurodevelopmental team.