Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. People with a diagnosis of Autism are often referred to as being on the Autism Spectrum, as each person with Autism will have different strengths and difficulties.  It is described as an invisible disability because it is not always apparent that a person has Autism. How a person with Autism presents to others can differ depending on each particular situation.  However everyone with a diagnosis on the Autism Spectrum (including Asperger Syndrome) will have difficulties in 3 key areas:

Social Communication

People on the Autism Spectrum have communication difficulties. Difficulties/differences may include:

  • Absence of desire to communicate or communication solely based on expressing needs. This can present difficulties when engaging in small talk or group discussions.
  • Difficulty picking up on sarcasm, metaphors… Literal interpretation of language is common for those on the Autism Spectrum.
  • Processing delays, particularly with verbal communication. The person may also repeat back information while processing.
  • Processing non-verbal information (tone, body language, facial expressions). The person may also have difficulty in using their own non-verbal communication effectively.


Social Interaction

People on the Autism Spectrum have difficulties with Social Interaction. At university areas of particular difficulty may be group work or times out with timetabled classes. These difficulties/differences may include:

  • Appearing  aloof or eccentric
  • Lack of social empathy. May show little interest in the needs or feelings of others.
  • Finding relationships difficult to establish and maintain.
  • Experiencing elevated stress levels, particularly in new situations/environments.  This may lead to unusual social responses.
  • Difficulty understanding social rules across social situations.


Social Imagination

People on the Autism Spectrum can struggle with social imagination (often referred to as flexibility of thought). This may be particularly evident at University in group work/discussion scenarios but may also come across in written work. Areas of difficulty/differences may include:

  • Difficulty understanding the points of view of others.
  • Inflexibility in understanding and applying social rules appropriately.
  • Difficulty generalising concepts across various scenarios.
  • Difficulty imagining the future, which can lead to difficulty in planning and organisation.
  • Difficulty with hypothetical questions/situations.


NB. Many people on the Autism Spectrum also suffer from sensory sensitivities. This spans across all the senses so they may have difficulty with particular lights, sounds, smells etc. At times these students may experience sensory overload and be unable to continue to participate in tasks.