Some people with autism are able to live fulfilling and independent lives with no additional support, but for others, living with autism is very debilitating, and can have a massive impact on the autistic person and those close to them, such as family members, friends and carers.

Broadly speaking, about half of autistic people will be at or above the typical range of intellectual ability, and about half will be below the typical range of ability. 

We live in a busy, noisy world, and people with autism take in much more stimuli than non-autistic people. This can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed or overloaded which can lead them having ‘meltdowns’ where they become very upset, unsettled or need to withdraw completely from everyday activity. Autistic people often need a lot of additional time and space to be able to process everything they’ve been exposed to on any given day, just to keep things at a manageable level. 

Autistic people may find uncertainty very difficult to cope with and find it more difficult to use social cues to weigh-up situations, work out how other people are feeling or predict what might happen in the future. Non-autistic people tend to use social cues on a very subconscious level, whilst autistic people need to put a lot more energy into working out whether their behaviour is ‘appropriate’ for any given situation. Not only can this be exhausting, it can also cause a great deal of anxiety.

How autism affects the individual can vary enormously, but a few examples of common difficulties may include: 

  • Very high anxiety - often due to difficulties understanding social interactions, and the fear of getting things 'wrong' 
  • Social isolation - often due to high levels of anxiety, and by being misunderstood, misinterpreted or rejected by other people
  • Difficulties with accessing services and employment
  • Difficulty accessing education
  • Sensory processing issues, which can make the world feel completely overwhelming
  • Difficulty with prioritising tasks
  • Health inequalities

Despite these challenges, people with autism can achieve their goals and autistic people make incredibly valuable contributions to society. With understanding, acceptance and having the right support when it is needed, all autistic people can have the opportunity to live happy and fulfilled lives. Some autistic people say that they benefit from being autistic; environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg describes autism as her 'superpower', and many pioneering thinkers throughout history are either known to have been, or thought to have been, autistic.

A general lack of understanding about autism is one of the biggest difficulties autistic people face, which is why we think educating people about autism, and promoting inclusion, is so important.