Autism (ASD)

What is it?

Autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person perceives and relates to the world around them. The term ‘spectrum’ is used as no two people are the same. All people with autism share certain strengths and difficulties, but these affect everyone in different ways. Other names used for autism are Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).

How does it affect children?

If your child has autism they may sometimes:

  • Struggle to get on with people socially.
  • Find it hard to understand other people’s emotions and feelings.
  • Find it difficult to clearly understand what people are saying.
  • Take things literally when they’re not meant that way or find sarcasm or jokes confusing.
  • Play in a repetitive way, preferring to play with objects rather than people.
  • Have difficulty starting conversations or taking part in them properly.
  • Develop a strong interest in particular activities or topics.
  • Enjoy having a familiar routine.

Some autistic children learn to cope with difficult situations by developing routines and if these are interrupted, they may find it very stressful. Your child may also find challenging to experience certain sights, sounds or touch.

Why does it happen?

Nobody knows what causes autism, or if it has a cause. It can affect people in the same family and may sometimes be passed on to a child by their parents.

Autism is not caused by:


Autistic people can have any level of intelligence. Some autistic people have average or above average intelligence. Others have a learning disability. This means they may find it hard to look after themselves and need help with daily life.

Autistic people may also have other conditions, such as:


If you are concerned about your child’s development, contact your GP or health visitor.

Details about assessment and referral

Under 6 years

If assessment for possible autism is required and your child is under 6 years old, you will be referred to a specialist community paediatric service in Oxfordshire.

In the Oxfordshire Health Authority, diagnosis involves a multidisciplinary assessment (MDA) from a team at the John Radcliffe Children’s Hospital in Oxford. The team usually includes a Paediatrician, a psychologist and a speech and language therapist.

An autism diagnosis is based on observation of how your child plays and interacts with others (how the child is developing now); an interview with parents and a review of their developmental history (how the child has developed in the past).

Over 6 years

If your child is over 6 years, they will be referred to the Oxfordshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Neuro-developmental Diagnostic Clinic (NDC).

The NDC offers diagnostic assessment of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as other neuro-developmental conditions. The assessment involves meeting the young person and relevant family members, as well as liaison with schools and other professionals.

Assessment may take place over several sessions and may involve assessments such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) or Qb test for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

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Page last reviewed: 12 August, 2021