Understand ASD: Know Your Child

What is Autism?

  • Autism is a developmental disability
  • It will affect how children understand the world
  • Children with Autism have difficulty in three main areas
  1. Social Skills
  2. Communication
  3. Imagination
  • Children with Autism think and learn differently
  • All children are individuals and no two children with Autism are the same
  • The effects of Autism can be mild or severe. Children with Autism can have other problems

1. Social Skills

If your child has difficulty in the area of social skills you may see some of the following:-

  • Poor or inappropriate eye contact
  • Limited and repetitive playProblems with imitation
  • Likes things to be on their own terms
  • May get upset if routine changes
  • May not know the difference between strangers and familiar adults
  • May be very fearful in some situations where the unexpected happens
  • May have no sense of danger
  • May be unable to share

2. Communication

Children with Autism may not want to communicate. They may not be ready to learn the communication skills other young children learn naturally. Therefore they miss out on early language experiences. Words often have no meaning. Facial expressions and gestures are difficult to understand.
Young children with Autism often have to learn the importance of communication. They have to realise that communication will not only be useful in meeting their needs but could be fun as well.

They need to learn how communication works. Just because your child uses words do not assume he can communicate. Communication is much more than just talking. Communication involves:-

  • Establishing attention
  • Taking in information
  • Understanding
  • Being able to respond
  • Being able to take turns

For young children with Autism it is very important for you to help them in anyway you can. You need to be sure they know:-

  • What you mean
  • What you want them to do
  • Where they have to go
  • What they are allowed to do
  • What you don't want them to do

This means you need to teach your child understanding.

They will need a way of sharing messages to help them understand communication as well as speaking we can use objects, pictures, photographs and the written word.


3. Imagination

Children with Autism often display difficulties with their imaginary skills and may show some of the following features:-

  • Preference for Routine
  • Shows Inflexibility
  • Finds change difficult
  • Difficulty in imagining what happens next?
  • Displays repetitive play
  • Shows a narrow range of interests
  • Difficulty with new tasks
  • Becomes fixated with particular objects
  • Difficulty with joint attention
  • Difficulty generalising concepts
  • Focuses on small detail, missing the bigger picture


Young children with Autism may experience sensory information in different ways.


  • Does not respond to speech and some sounds
  • Is upset by certain noises


  • Seeks out physical stimulation by running, spinning and climbing/bouncing
  • Dislikes sudden movement or being off the ground (eg swings, escalators)


  • Seeks out visual stimulation by spinning or looking at his flicking fingers etc.
  • Stares at objects from unusual angles
  • Avoids bright lights, blinks often
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Would look out of corner of eyes


  • Refuses to wear certain items of clothing eg. wool, fleece
  • Dislikes having hair washed, cut, nails cut
  • Enjoys deep pressure and seeks it out by squeezing into small spaces or holding something in the hand, enjoys long hugs but rarely gives eye contact
  • Has a high/low pain threshold


  • Gags at certain smells - playdough, rubber, balloons
  • Smells or licks inedible objects
  • Eats highly seasoned/spicy foods
  • Very picky eater



Each child with Autism is unique with his/her own individual personality, abilities and difficulties. You should aim to understand your child's level of development so that you know where to start to help him/her learn. If you ask too much of him/her before he is ready he/she will not understand and will not be able to join in with you.

Children with Autism learn very differently to typically developing children. They do not always move from one developmental stage to the next. You need to identify what he/she can do and what he/she can't do.

You need to know what he/she likes and what will interest him/her so that you can make activities that will be fun and meaningful.

You should talk to the team of professionals who gave your child his diagnosis so that you can get a full picture of your child's abilities. They will have assessed his l:-

The following checklists may be helpful for you to support your child