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Autism presents in many different ways. Sometimes autism can be hard to identify.

You may:

  • communicate and interact with other people in a certain way
  • need support interpreting other people's thoughts and feelings
  • find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
  • get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
  • take longer to process information depending on the context, how it is presented or your anxiety level at the time
  • do or think the same things over and over
  • prefer routine and predictability in your life

Signs of autism might be noticed when you're very young. But sometimes they're not noticed until you're older.

Autism is not an illness

Autism is a unique way of being. Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people.

If you're autistic, you're autistic your whole life.

Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a "cure". But some autistic people need support to help them with certain things.

Autism is different for everyone

Autism is a spectrum. This means it is different for every autistic person.

Some autistic people need little or no support. Others may need help from a parent or support person every day.

Like everyone, autistic people have things they're good at as well as things they struggle with.

Being autistic does not mean you can never make friends, have relationships or get a job. But you might need extra support with these things.

Being autistic does not have to stop you having a good life.

Autistic people and learning

Some autistic people have average or above average intelligence.

Some autistic people have a different learning style or an intellectual disability. Some people may need help with daily life.

Sensory issues

Some people with autism may have sensory issues.

These may include how they experience:

  • texture - they may have issues with food, for example, some foods may feel unpleasant in their mouth
  • lights - for example, office lights may feel too bright in the workplace
  • noises - sounds in school may be overwhelming

Other names for autism

Some people use other names for autism, such as:

  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - the medical name for autism
  • Asperger's (or Asperger syndrome) is used by some people to describe autistic people with average or above average intelligence

More about Asperger's

Doctors do not diagnose people with Asperger's anymore because it's now thought of as part of autism. If you were diagnosed with it in the past, you are now understood to have autism. You do not need to be assessed or diagnosed again.

It's not clear what causes autism

There are probably a number of different causes for autism, but it is not fully understood.

Autism is:

  • not caused by bad parenting
  • not caused by vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine
  • not linked to diet
  • not an infection you can spread to other people

Autistic people may have other conditions

Autistic people often have other conditions, such as:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • dyslexia - issues with reading
  • dyspraxia - issues with movement
  • mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • intellectual disabilities
  • epilepsy
  • problems sleeping (insomnia)
  • problems with joints and other parts of the body

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 30 May 2023
Next review due: 30 May 2026