• What is autism?
  • What does autism look like?
  • How do you get autism?
  • Who can help?
  • How you can help
  • What kids say
  • conclusion

What is autism?

autismOur brain is collecting information about the world around us all of the time.

  • It gets that information from our senses – what we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
  • The brain works out what all this means and then we react to all that information.

Of course, the messages are constantly changing as we move around or things change around us.

Children with autism (say aw-tiz-m) get all of that information, but they are not able to make sense of it all.

  • Their ears hear normally, but their brain cannot understand what others are saying. Sometimes, sounds that we like are far too loud to them.
  • Their eyes see normally, but some things seem to hurt their eyes, and some things seem to be very interesting.
  • Sometimes they are so interested in looking at something that they do not notice what else is going on around them.

It is hard for that person to learn to communicate and to understand what is happening in the world around him.

About 1 in 100 children have some difficulties with communication and interactions with other people which fit into the diagnosis of Austism Spectrum Disorder. Only a few of them have severe problems.

What does autism look like?

If someone is smiling, we think they are happy or they want to be friendly with us. Our brain has made autisma connection between smiling, happiness and friendliness. Someone with autism does not make that connection.

We are all used to the everyday noises that surround us – music, traffic, kids in a classroom, etc. Someone with autism may feel really upset by noise and will try to shut it out of her or his ears.

We communicate with each other by talking, listening and watching.
autismSomeone with autism will have trouble learning to speak, or understanding what people mean when they are talking.

We like to be part of a group and hang out with friends.
Someone with autism may not like to be around people, even close family and friends.

We all need to learn how to act around other people.
Someone with autism may act in unusual ways, like flapping her arms, waving her fingers, saying something over and over again, and wanting to do the same thing all the time.

We know that things change and we adapt to changes.
Someone with autism will get very upset when things change, such as when something has been moved in her room.

autism - movingAll of us are different and unique.
People with autism are also unique and different. Some may have a lot of trouble coping with life, while others may only have a few problems.

Most of us go to school to be educated and to learn all kinds of different skills.
Someone with autism may be more comfortable learning in her own home or in a special class at school, or may be quite happy to be in a regular classroom.

We are able to learn about a lot of different things.
Someone with autism may not be able to learn much about a lot of things, but she could know an enormous amount about one or two things.

How do you get autism?

  • People who have autism are born with it, but the signs that they are having problems usually do not show up until they are at least a year or more old.
  • You cannot catch autism.
  • It seems that to have Autism you need to have different genes to most people, but even when a person has those different genes, he might not develop autism. It seems that you need something else to happen to trigger autism. It also seems that the brain of children with autism starts to develop differently before birth.
  • Often other people in the family of someone with autism have some developmental problem too. They may have autism, or just be a bit ‘odd’. Sometimes they are extremely good at learning and remembering things.

Who can help?

It can take a while to find out if someone has autism. There is no simple test, like a blood test, to see if someone has autism.

It may take a group of different kinds of health professionals working together to work out whether someone has autism.

The team may have:

  • a paediatrician (say pee-dee-a-trish-un) – a doctor who specialises in the health of children
  • a speech pathologist (say path-ol-o-jist)  – a person who specialises in helping people to speak clearly and be able to communicate what they mean
  • a psychologist (say s-eye-kol-o-jist) – someone who specialises in how brains work
  • a psychiatrist (say s-eye-k-eye-a-trist) – a doctor who specialises in helping people work out their difficulties in relating to others and the world around them.

How you can help

If you have someone in your family, or a friend who has autism, you can help by:

  • being caring when he is having problems understanding
  • explaining to others that he is autistic when they get upset by his unusual behaviour
  • being a good friend
  • accepting that he is different
  • not getting upset if he doesn’t want to do something with you and other friends
  • staying calm and explaining when his behaviour is inappropriate
  • not teasing or allowing others to tease him
  • praising him when he does something well
  • always calling him by the same name or a nickname that he likes
  • always keep your promises
  • don’t borrow things from him
  • don’t tease or be sarcastic – he may not understand that you are just kidding
  • be early if you are meeting your friend somewhere. He could be very upset if you are not on time.
  • be very clear about making arrangements to meet. Say exactly where and when.

What kids say


  • “Someone I know is different like this. He is in year seven. He talks differently and sometimes he can be very angry. He is very smart at maths and other things too.” – Brett
  • “I don’t like it when someone moves my things – it makes me feel upset.”
  • “People need to be helpful and kind to people who have autism.” – Suela


Dr Kate

“Living with someone who has autism can be challenging. Everyone needs to feel cared for and loved. If you have someone in your family or in your class who is autistic (say aw-tis-tik), you can help him by being encouraging and caring. It is not cool to be unkind to someone who is ‘different’. Others may think you are a bully and no-one likes bullies.

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