Understanding autism

Autism is a spectrum, which means that not every autistic child or young person may show all the same signs. Parents, doctors, or health visitors can often spot these early signs.

The common signs of autism in children and young people can include:

  • communication differences, such as delayed speed development
  • repetitive behaviour and thought processes, for example lining up toys
  • self-stimulatory movements, for example hand-flapping
  • being sensitive to certain sensory aspects, such as sounds and textures
  • the inability to recognise nonverbal forms of communication
  • not able to understand what others are thinking or feeling or express their feelings
  • struggling to cope with transitions and changes.

Autistic children and young people can also:

  • be extremely passionate about what interests them
  • perceive the world differently and process information in unique ways
  • be detail-orientated and pay attention to the finer details
  • love routines and like to stick to them
  • have great memories and be able to recall facts
  • be visual thinkers
  • be straightforward, direct and honest
  • be very smart
  • have hyperlexia (meaning a child can learn to read early and quickly)
  • be unafraid to be themselves.

These signs are not a definitive list of every autistic child or young person.

They simply have a unique view of the world. And with a little help from their friends, family, and classmates. They might be able to share that view with us. Autism can make amazing things happen!

Explaining to your child or young person they are autistic

It's up to you when you tell your child or young person about their autism. Some parents and carers tell them early on, whilst others wait until they're older. You know your child or young person and you know what's best for them. There's no right or wrong time.  It may help when you tell them to:

  • explain they do not have an illness, but they might need extra support to help them with some things
  • explain they might find some things harder than other people, and some things easier
  • do it when they're feeling calm or relaxed
  • talk to them in a place where they feel comfortable, with no distractions
  • bring them to a support group to meet other autistic children.

The National Autistic Society made a helpful guide. It explains how to start this discussion. Or, you can read our support for families section.

Additional help

Sometimes it is hard to understand how an autistic child or young person feels. Or, if you are unsure if they have autism.

You can find additional support through local charities, groups and networks.

Explaining autism videos

Explaining autism behaviour videos

Ambitious about Autism have made some helpful videos. They feature young people explaining autism behaviors, including:

Young person's views

Ambitious about Autism brought together young people (16+) to create the project 'myVoice'.

The project let young autistic people connect with others. Where they were able to talk about their worries. They created content. It included blogs and videos about many topics. These topics include health, friendship, and education.

Visit myVoice to hear the views of autistic young people.

Understanding autism books

You may find it easier to sit down with your child or young person and read books about autism. You could:

The parent handbook

Parents and carers of children waiting for an autism or ADHD assessment helped develop the handbook. It includes sections on where to go for help with:

  • health
  • education
  • rights and benefits
  • family life
  • the language and terms of the SEND world.

Read the handbook.

10 helpful tips

Here are 10 tips to help you interact with autistic children and young people:

  1. Be kind and flexible. They're often less able to adapt to new situations.
  2. Use gestures or other ways to communicate besides words.
  3. Learn how to show interest and affection in ways they like.
  4. Try to help them communicate by using Signalong, Makaton or social storyboards.
  5. Be patient, they may need more time to process information.
  6. Use positive reinforcement. Praise or reward good behaviour.
  7. Stick to the same bedtime routine , and remove any bright lights to help with sensitivity
  8. Don't take things personally if their responses are blunt.
  9. Ask siblings to be involved in supporting activities.
  10. Plan activities for weekends and holidays in advance and share those plans.

Download Ambitious about Autism's parent toolkit. It contains more tips, templates for appointments, and meeting checklists.

Talking to siblings

You also may need to sit down with any siblings to discuss how they are feeling.

They may have many questions. They may find it hard to express emotions. The charity SIBS has great advice and support for siblings of autistic children.

Talking to grandparents

Grandparents may have a harder time understanding autism. Don't be afraid to give grandparents as much information as possible.

They can provide an excellent opportunity for your autistic child to learn and grow with. Grandparents can also provide a vast array of new social opportunities for your child to practice their social or communication skills.


For more information about autism, you can read or watch one of the following.


Specific needs:

Family support:

Making it work: Kent and Medway’s transformation of neurodiversity support

With the help of parents and carers, work is going on to transform the health and care support for neurodiverse children and young people (such as autistic children and children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder) in Kent and Medway.

A new support network for neurodiverse children and young people, their parents and carers is being developed by a range of professionals. This is in response to feedback that parents and carers have consistently reported feeling unsupported when looking for help with the health and care they need for their children and young people.

Find out more about this work and how you can contribute your views.

If you're young and think you might be autistic, you will need a GP to refer you for an assessment. This is for a formal diagnosis.

The Ambitious Youth Network has made some great resources. The resources are for young autistic people like themselves. Autistic young people write their own videos and blogs. They explain their diagnosis, autistic identity, and their life.

Over the age of 18

If you are an adult (over 18) and you think you're might be autistic, find out what support is available for you.

Autism is more common in boys, but is often missed in girls.

Autistic girls are often better at hiding their autism in public. So, they do not get diagnosed. This means they often miss out on support. Support can help them understand their challenges, build skills, and excel in school.

Autistic girls:

  • are often described as quiet or shy
  • have difficulty with social communication
  • have trouble with their feelings when frustrated. They may be disruptive or not know how to handle their emotions
  • are passionate about specific interests. For example, they may talk endlessly about a favourite TV show character, props, or actors. But, they know little or nothing about the show itself.
  • are unusually sensitive to sensory challenges
  • rely heavily on others to guide and speak for them
  • have a hard time making or keeping friends.


For more information about autism and girls, you can watch:

Or you can visit one of the following websites to find out more:

Autistic children and young people may sometimes 'mask' their differences and anxieties. They do this to try to fit in with others.

Although many boys mask their behaviour it can be more common in girls. Many studies show that girls are often better at masking. So, they may miss diagnosis and support.

You may see your child or young person's behaviour at home. You are aware of how they act. In an environment that could be loud, busy, or unknown to them, they could mask their differences.

Examples of masking

  • Hiding or reducing their personal interests.
  • Hiding a jiggling foot, or changing a motion to a less obvious one.
  • Copying smiles and facial expressions of others.
  • Forcing or faking eye contact during conversations.
  • Preparing jokes or phrases ahead of time to use in conversation.
  • Pushing through intense sensory discomfort including loud noises.

Masking can help them to feel safe, however it can take its toll on themselves and can lead to a burnout. This could include:

  • feeling exhausted
  • increased stress or anxiety
  • change in self perception, for example not feeling their true self.

Support your child or young person

  • Ensure they have a period of downtime on their own when they come home from school or a new environment.
  • Allow them to focus on their special interest.
  • Support them with sensory activities.
  • Share any concerns you have with your child or young person's school. Ask them if they can have additional sensory breaks to help if they are overwhelmed with school.

Planning a day out is exciting. But, there can be more to consider when travelling with your autistic child or young person.

Tips for preparing for a day out

  • Remember to bring sensory aids. These include ear defenders, comfort blankets, toys, or quiet fiddle toys if they need them.
  • If they have an autism awareness card, take it with you. You can use it to let staff or support know your child may act differently.
  • Ask for support at the destination, whether this be the cinema, theatre, museum or airport.
  • Make sure that you take any medications your child or young person requires.
  • Put together a visual guide, or show your child or young person photos or videos where they are going.
  • Prepare a timetable in advance. Consider any strong interests, repetitive behaviour, or routines they have.
  • Think about what situations they may need to understand, like delays or changes to travel plans. Think about how you can use social stories to help them prepare.

Visit our days out and activities page to find autism friendly days out in Kent.

Find autism friendly groups in Kent.

Autistic people can often have trouble sleeping. There are a range of reasons for this, which include:

  • difficulties relaxing or winding down from a busy day
  • decompressing from masking
  • desensitizing from sensory overload experiences
  • irregular melatonin levels.

Tips for supporting your child or young person to sleep

  • Keep a sleep diary. It will show any odd sleep patterns and factors affecting your child's sleep. Find out how to create the right environment to sleep from Dr Rachel Hussy, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist.
  • Use visual supports or social stories to help explain why sleep is important.
  • Have dark curtains or blackout blinds.
  • Remove any distractions in the room.
  • Use scented oils that your child finds relaxing.
  • Use relaxing techniques to help in the wind down before bed. For example,  a bath, a massage, or have quiet time.
  • Block out noises using ear plugs or listen to music through headphones.
  • Remove labels from bedding and night clothes. Or, try bedding and nightclothes made from other materials.
  • Watch this helpful video from North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) for more top tips.

Visit the National Autistic Society to read more about autism and sleep.

Tics are common in childhood. They often appear at around age 5 or can start in adulthood. They are 3 to 4 times more common in boys than in girls.

They are not usually serious, but can be frustrating to the child or young person with them.

Tics are the main symptom of Tourette's syndrome. People with Tourette's syndrome have a combination of physical and vocal tics.

Tics can include

  • Blinking, wrinkling the nose or grimacing.
  • Fast, repetitive muscle movements.
  • Jerking or banging the head.
  • Clicking the fingers.
  • Touching other people or things.
  • Coughing, grunting or sniffing.
  • Repeating a sound or phrase – in a small number of cases, this may be something obscene or offensive.


For more information about tics visit:

Remember, autism is different for everyone. What happened to other people might not be the same for you or your child.

You may wish to reach out to a local group or charity for more support:

Find out what support before, during and after diagnosis is available near you.

We all express our gender in different ways, some people may:

  • be assigned female at birth, but identify as male
  • be assigned male at birth, but identify as female
  • identify as neither female or male
  • feel that they are both female and male at different times.

This is known as gender identity.

Autistic children and young people tend to be less influenced by or responsive to gender norms.


Learn more about gender and sexuality by visiting:

If you need extra support, you may find some through online training courses or workshops.

Find training opportunities.

Autistic young people often need more time to understand and prepare for changes. Especially dealing with the physical and emotional changes of menstruation.

By helping them to understand how to manage their periods, you will give them the skills they need. These skills make them independent, confident, and resilient.

Want to know more? Read this helpful guide. It gives tips and advice from parents, carers, and autistic young people. Created the Parent Carer Voice group. Alongside iThrive and our Participation Team.

Email talkaboutMH@kent.gov.uk to contact Parent Carer Voice or to join one of our meetings.