Autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people.
People with autism have difficulties in three main areas - social communication, social interaction, and repetitive and stereotypic behaviour. Sensory difficulties are also very common.
If you feel that you are affected by autism then you can ask for a referral for a formal assessment. However, because autism is not a learning disability or a mental health problem, getting a referral for a diagnostic assessment may sometimes be difficult.
The typical route for getting a diagnosis is to visit your GP. He or she can refer you to other health professionals who can make a formal diagnosis. Primary Care Trusts have different referral pathways for the assessment and diagnosis of autism, but GPs should be aware of the referral pathway in their area.
Autism is not a Learning Disability, although people with autism may have specific learning difficulties, which may include dyslexia or dyspraxia, or other conditions such as epilepsy.
Although autism is not a mental health problem, some people may also have anxiety or depression. A formal diagnostic assessment should therefore address the possibility of anxiety or depression or other clinical conditions which can occur with autism or which can appear to be autism but are not.
People with autism may have strengths and positive qualities in other areas. These strengths may include an exceptional skill or talent, excellent memory skills, honesty and loyalty. Such strengths can often be used to compensate for some of the difficulties that a person with autism may have.
A formal diagnosis, with a report that can identify your cognitive strengths, as well as possible difficulties and make recommendations for strategies can help you, your family, friends, work colleagues and healthcare professionals understand you better and manage your needs and behaviour.