Autism Spectrum Condition

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others and how they perceive the world. Each individual's needs are unique to them and so no two people with the condition are the same.

Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be 'cured'. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity.

Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing. 

Four areas of difficulty:

Social Communication:
A young person with autism may find it difficult to communicate what they want, how they feel or to ask for help. Understanding jokes and sayings can also be more difficult due to the literal nature of autism - ‘pull your socks up' meaning to ‘up your game' could be taken as physically needing to pull up their socks. They may also struggle with following instruction and so staff may need to check that the young person has understood what is being asked of them (note: simply repeating back what you have instructed them to do does not demonstrate understanding, that would demonstrate listening).
Can you think of a situation where following instructions could be important? What might you do

Social Understanding:
Young people with autism may have difficulties with reading facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Also, they do not always understand the unwritten social rules that we all naturally follow, such as how you behave differently when interacting with your team mates as you would with your coach. This can prove stressful when trying to navigate social situations. When we consider that 55% of what we communicate is through our body language, 37% is how we say words...yet only 7% accounts for the actual words that we say.
What problems do you think this might cause for a young person in your setting?

Flexibility of thought:
Children and young people with autism can be quite rigid in how they follow rules and may struggle with change. Some can find it difficult to move on from an activity (particularly if they are enjoying it) and others may get upset when people don't follow the rules of a game. They may also have problems with generalising between locations, for instance - when using the sports hall only associating it with one sport and not many. Furthermore, they can find planning ahead difficult, so reminders of what you are doing now and then what you will be doing later will help them to manage that.
What might you be able to put in place that could help?

Unless we see someone with a hearing aid or glasses we might not be aware they may have difficulties with one or more of their senses. For young people with autism it is not uncommon for them to be either hypo (under) or hyper (over) sensitive in one or more of the five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing. For instance, a sensitivity to touch may mean that a young person feels as though they have been punched when in fact they were lightly nudged. Or, if they are under sensitive, they may not feel anything. Furthermore there are two less commonly known senses, proprioception and vestibular, that can be similarly affected. Proprioception is the awareness of your body in space - some children and young people with autism may seek activities that involve deep pressure so that they feel grounded and aware of where they are in relation to other objects. The Vestibular system affects our balance and whilst some young people may crave input through rocking or spinning, others may find this disorientating and avoid activities that include this.
What sensory difficulties might a young person encounter in your setting?

What can you do to help:
• Talk to parents and carers about the young person's needs and ask for information on any difficulties that they may have.
• Break language down and make sure what you are saying is clear - remember how literal young people with autism can be.
• If a child is upset speak to them in a calm voice and use simple language.
• Make sure you are attentive to a young person's body language or behaviour as they may not always be able to voice that they are upset.
• Think about the environment and whether anything needs to be altered. For instance, is the air conditioning set too high? Would it be better to have swimming lessons when it is quieter?
• Do you have a safe space or quiet area that can be easily accessed in times of stress? This can be a pop up tent in the corner of a field in summer, for example.
• Are visuals used throughout the building? E.g., Showers, Toilets and Lockers.
• Are rules clearly stated in a place where everyone can read them?
• Give plenty of warning to parents if a session has changed in some way so that children and young people have time to digest that information. For instance the coach may be replaced, the time of the session moved back or the sessions relocated to a new venue.
• Use a special interest to engage a child or young person but remember to help them move on when time for the task it up.


Please take a look at the 2 following videos to see what the Autism Strategy is for Cornwall and what it is doing to make leisure activities accessible for young people with autisum.


If you have ASC or are interested in activities for people with ASC please use the search filter and select add Autism Spectrum Condition as your activity.

If you currently offer or would like to offer activities for people with ASDC please register your sessions selecting ASC.


The Wellbeing and Autism Wheel is designed to assist parents in finding helpful services and resources for their child, who may be on the Autistic spectrum or have a similar condition. Use the link below to visit the wheel:


Further Information, help & guidance:

Care & Support in Cornwall - A website for residents of Cornwall requiring care and support across a wide range of needs

National Autistic Society - Providing specialist help, information and care for children, adults and families across England

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