Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders

What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition. Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a term used to describe a common set of characteristics related to the ability of understanding and communicating with the world. People with ASD can present their disability in a number of ways and at very different degrees. ASD can affect people of any level of intellectual ability.

The main areas of difficulty that people with an ASD have are:


Individuals with Autism may have difficulty with verbal communication, and some may have no speech at all. There can also be difficulties with non-verbal communication including understanding facial expressions, gestures and body language. Individuals can also take things very literally and some may have echolalia (repeat words or sentences).

Social Interaction

Difficulties with social interaction can lead to an inability to form friendships and close relationships, some may want to interact with others but not have the skill set to do so. Others will prefer their own company and will not seek the companionship of others. This can often present as appearing aloof and indifferent or having no awareness of personal boundaries and socially acceptable behaviour.

Flexibility of Thought (Imagination)

Most individuals on the Autistic Spectrum enjoy structure and routine and find any sort of change difficult. There may be limited ability to think creatively, especially with regards to something that an individual has not personally experienced.


Hyposensitivity—Response to a stimulus is unusually delayed or lessened in degree, can be dulled or underactive.

Hypersensitivity—Over sensitive or overactive, means that sensations can be experienced as acute and overwhelming.

Any of a person’s senses can be affected; sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. They can also fluctuate between hyper and hypo.

Communication, Social Interaction and Flexibility of Thought are often labelled as the ‘Triad of Impairment’. Difficulties affecting individuals with ASD are not just limited to these as many will also have other difficulties, including sensory issues.


Common Characteristics of Autism. 

There are many characteristics that individuals on the Autistic Spectrum may display. Some of the more common include:

  • Non-verbal / limited speech or delayed language development
  • Poor or no eye-contact
  • Difficulty understanding social situations
  • Prefer solitary activities
  • Be resistant to change
  • Have a narrow range of interests
  • Take things literally
  • Strong sense of smell, sound, light, taste or textures
  • Use sensory stimulating (stimming) gestures, such as spinning, hand flapping etc)
  • Challenging behaviours


People with Autism are often diagnosed as children but many enter adulthood before getting a diagnosis.

A diagnosis can help individuals with Autism better understand and manage their difficulties. It can also allow people to access appropriate support and services.

Once a diagnosis has been made, there are better chances of a person receiving the appropriate help and support. Specialist education, structured support and workplace adaptions can go a long way to making a real difference in the life of the individual. Having a diagnosis can also enable others to be more understanding of their difficulties.


How we can help

At the Sycamore Trust, we offer a variety of clubs and programmes designed to help children, teenagers and young adults with ASD, from as young as two years old.

Look on our website for details of the Speak With A Picture project, which helps families and children of pre-school age with communication difficulties.

We also offer youth clubs for young people from the age of eight upwards, with a variety of activities designed to increase social skills, build confidence and improve self-esteem.

For help and advice, our Autism Hub in the Liberty Centre in Romford is open four days a week and offers a range of services, including our Autism Law Clinic, our adult social group and our sensory room, where children (and parents!) can relax in a calm environment if the shopping experience leads to a sensory overload.

For businesses wishing to be more autism aware, we recommend our Autism Ambassadors, a group of young people on the spectrum who go into workplaces to advise on how businesses can become more autism friendly as well as delivering a presentation to staff giving examples of how a person with ASD might react in certain situations.

For any enquiries, call 020 8517 9317 or e-mail