About autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), usually called autism, is something you’re born with. Autism means that the way you think about and experience the world is different to most people. This means you can behave differently to most people, and have different strengths and difficulties. For example, some autism characteristics (things you think, feel and do) can make it hard to express yourself in social situations, but you may also be particularly knowledgeable and passionate about topics that interest you.

Read more about characteristics of autism here

Autism is highly variable – the word ‘spectrum’ refers to how autism is experienced differently by different people. Autism is considered a spectrum because it’s different for every autistic person – some autistic people might need more support than others to live the lives they want to lead. The way autism affects you can change as you grow and develop, and experience different environments.

Read more about support here

Talking about autism

Many people who have been diagnosed with autism prefer using the term ‘autistic’ to describe themselves – this is known as identity-first language (for example, “I’m autistic”). They consider autism to be part of their identity, not a condition to be treated.

For a long time people used the term ‘person on the autism spectrum’, known as person-first language (for example, “I’m on the autism spectrum”), and some people still prefer this.

In this guide, we’ll mostly use the term ‘autistic’.

If in doubt, you can always ask an autistic person what term they’d prefer.

In the past, autism was broken down into several different diagnoses, including:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • autistic disorder
  • Kanner’s Syndrome
  • childhood autism
  • atypical autism
  • Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)

Because these diagnoses all had the characteristics of autism, they were removed and replaced with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism for short. People also use the term ‘autism spectrum condition’ (ASC).

Learn more about autism from autistic people

How common is autism?

At least 1 in 100 people in Scotland are autistic. Currently, between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 people diagnosed with autism are assigned female at birth.

Read more about autism and gender

Autism is always present from birth, but it might not be recognised or diagnosed until adulthood. Early intervention, in the form of support for their individual needs, can be helpful for autistic children.

Even if you aren’t diagnosed until adulthood, getting a diagnosis can be very helpful for identifying your strengths and the things you struggle with, and finding support.

Read more about characteristics of autism

Characteristics of autism

Every autistic person is different and has different experiences. However, there are some characteristics that are common in autistic people.

The way these characteristics show themselves can change with age, and also with the situation you’re in.

For example:

  • the way you use language and talk might be different to most people
  • you may use facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures (hand and body movements) differently to most people
  • making and maintaining friendships might be difficult for you
  • you may be good at seeing patterns or solutions, and be good at seeing solutions to problems that other people might not
  • you might have set ways of doing things, and find it difficult to do them differently
  • autistic people are often very good at understanding and working with structured systems, for example languages, music, and computers
  • you may have good attention to detail, and be good at spotting mistakes
  • you might be passionately interested in certain things, and as a result learn a large amount about them in a short time – these interests can change throughout your life
  • you might avoid or seek out certain sensations, like loud noises or specific textures, more than most people, and experience them more strongly
  • there might be some foods you particularly enjoy and eat a lot of, and others that you can’t be around due to their texture or smell
  • when working on projects, you might find it difficult to think about the project as a whole – you may do a great job on your part of a group project, but struggle to imagine how it fits in with everyone else’s part
  • while autistic people can be good at paying attention to detail, you might find it difficult to leave out details that are accurate but not needed when talking to people or working on projects
  • autistic people can be very determined and driven, and keep going with tasks or problems when other people may give up
  • you might find you’re always determined to make sure things are ‘perfect’, and sometimes forget to eat or sleep if you’re working on something
  • it can be difficult for autistic people to work in groups where there isn’t clear communication about what they’re expected to do

There are a number of other possible signs that a healthcare professional will look for when assessing if someone is autistic.

Read more about diagnosing autism here

Autism and gender

At the moment, people assigned male at birth are diagnosed with autism more often than people assigned female at birth. As more healthcare professionals now know what characteristics to look for, it’s becoming more common for people assigned female at birth to receive an autism diagnosis. However, recognising autism can take longer for people assigned female at birth. This is because the signs healthcare professionals look for are the same for everyone, but people assigned female at birth can often show different characteristics.

People assigned female at birth can be more likely to ‘mask’ autism – they learn how to hide autism characteristics and copy what people without autism do, in order to fit into groups. This can make it harder to recognise that they might be autistic, and to receive a diagnosis.

Autism and environment

Some environments can be very difficult for autistic people, due to the way they experience and interact with the world. Every autistic person finds different things difficult, but common examples are:

  • social situations with no timetable or clear ‘rules’ on things like who speaks when – for example, parties and nights out
  • busy environments like concerts, supermarkets, and school playgrounds, where there might be a lot of different loud noises at once

Many environments allow autistic people to feel more comfortable and be themselves. When autistic people are in an environment with people who understand their individual needs and characteristics, they’re likely to:

  • feel more relaxed
  • perform better at tasks
  • find it easier to learn
  • use less time and energy trying to fit in with their environment

Because every autistic person is different, it can take time to understand how you experience different environments. It may also take time to find the environments that suit your needs, and to learn which ones to avoid.

If there’s an autistic person in your life, it’s important to ask them what they’d prefer and if there’s anything you can do to make a new environment more comfortable for them.

If you’re the parent or caregiver of an autistic child, you can ask how they felt in situations, or look for signs that they’re uncomfortable during or after being in different environments. Autistic children are often able to communicate best with those closest to them about what they enjoy and don’t enjoy.

Read more about finding the right environment

Diagnosing autism

The signs of autism can be different depending on the person and how old they are.

Because autism is present from birth, it can usually be diagnosed in childhood. However, it may only be recognised later in life. Understanding of autism has grown over time, so more people are now being diagnosed when they’re older if the signs weren’t recognised when they were children.

These are signs of autism that health professionals look for when making a diagnosis, but an autistic person may not have all of these signs. For example, delayed speech (learning to speak later than most children), or a child not speaking at all, can be a sign of autism. However, many autistic children talk at the same age a child without autism would.

It’s also possible that these signs are there, but they aren’t caused by autism.

If you think you or your child might be autistic, talk to your GP or health visitor.

Signs of autism in children 

The signs of autism can change as children grow – babies and toddlers show different signs of autism than children aged 4 and older. 

Babies and toddlers

Signs of autism in babies and toddlers can include a number of things that affect different parts of their life and behaviour.

Talking and showing emotions

Autistic babies and toddlers might:

  • start talking later than most children
  • seem less aware of others around them – for example, they might not respond to their name being called
  • make repetitive movements when excited or upset - for example flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or making the same noise repeatedly

Autistic babies and toddlers might not:

  • smile back when you smile at them
  • point to show when they want something
  • point to show you something they find interesting
  • share when they’re feeling happy – for example, they might be having fun playing, but they might not turn around and smile at you
Playing

Autistic babies and toddlers might:

  • spend a long time setting up toys in a certain way, and set them up the same way every time
  • enjoy lining toys up in order, or watching parts of them move

Autistic babies and toddlers might not:

  • seem interested in playing with other children their age
  • seem to use their toys to make up stories or pretend – they might also start pretend play at a later age than most children
Sensory (sights, smells, sounds, touch, and tastes)

Autistic babies and toddlers might:

  • react strongly to sounds, smells, touch, tastes, or things they can see – for example, if they like the way a stuffed toy feels, they want to spend a lot of time stroking the toy
  • become upset if given something to eat or drink that’s new to them
  • eat a limited range of foods

Children aged 4 and up

As children grow and experience different environments, such as nursery and school, the characteristics of autism can appear differently.

Communicating

Autistic children might:

  • speak differently to most children – for example, they might use an unusual accent, talk slowly or quickly compared to others, speak in a ‘flat’ tone that doesn’t change, or use a ‘sing-song’ voice
  • use longer or more complicated words than most children, even in relaxed situations
  • struggle to ask other people questions about themselves
  • find it hard to keep a conversation going
Relationships

Autistic children might:

  • show a great deal of enthusiasm for talking about subjects that interest them, but experience significant difficulty when talking about other people’s interests
  • find it difficult to make and keep friends
  • want to play with other children, but find it hard to ask if they can join in
  • have 1 or 2 good friends that they spend a lot of time with
  • spend free time, such as school break times, by themselves
  • find it hard to tell the difference between someone being friendly or joking and someone trying to bully them or hurt their feelings
  • get on better with adults than other children their age
  • get on better with children who are younger or older than them
  • spend time with a group of children, but find it hard to join in with other children’s play, and so spend a lot of time on the edge of the group
  • have friends at school, but show little to no interest in seeing them outside of school
Different situations and routine

Autistic children might:

  • accidentally make social mistakes, for example correcting a teacher about classroom rules
  • find some social situations, like parties or busy places, overwhelming and difficult to cope with
  • be passive around other children or adults, agreeing to everything and doing everything people ask
  • often tell others what to do, including while playing
  • struggle with social situations with no timetable or clear ‘rules’, such as free play or school break times
  • find it difficult to cope with changes to their routine, especially if the change is unexpected – for example, having a different teacher for a day or having plans change due to bad weather
Sensory (sights, smells, sounds, touch, and tastes)

Autistic children might:

  • react strongly to sounds, smells, touch, tastes, or things they can see – for example, being unable to cope with seams in their socks or the noises in supermarkets
  • find certain sounds, smells, feelings or tastes particularly calming or enjoyable – for example, coloured lights or being tucked tightly into bed
  • make repetitive movements when excited or upset - for example flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or making the same noise repeatedly

Signs of autism in teenagers and adults

The characteristics of autism can affect you differently as you get older – you may also recognise some of the signs of autism in children in yourself as an adult. Many people are diagnosed with autism as teenagers or adults based on noticing that they think and behave differently from most other people.

Signs of autism in teenagers

As you age and experience different environments, you might notice different signs of autism.

Communicating

As an autistic teenager, you might:

  • find it hard to be understood in conversations,
  • find it hard to work out when to talk in conversations – you might never get to say what you want to say, or find yourself talking over other people
  • find it easier to communicate with other autistic people
  • be able to talk for a long time about the subjects that particularly interest you
  • show a great deal of enthusiasm for talking about subjects that interest you, but experience significant difficulty when trying to talk about other people’s interests
  • be able to answer other people’s questions, but struggle to know what questions to ask or how to answer when someone tells you something about themselves
  • find other people say you use a lot of long words, or use longer or more complicated words than most people
  • often use the same phrases when you’re talking
  • struggle with hidden meanings when other people are talking to you – it might be difficult for you to understand a ‘hint’, or notice when someone is flirting with you
  • find people can take the wrong meaning from your words or behaviour – for example, if you make a lot of eye contact, they might think you’re flirting with them
Behaviour and different situations

As an autistic teenager, you might:

  • find eye contact uncomfortable, or struggle to know how much eye contact to use
  • do well when you’re in your routine, but find it difficult when routines change – changes might make you feel anxious, make it hard to concentrate, or mean you have to work harder on things it’d normally be easy to do
  • struggle to imagine things that you haven’t experienced before – for example, if you’re going to a party for the first time, it might be hard for you to imagine what will happen and what you’ll be expected to do
  • find yourself making social mistakes without realising why – for example, during conversations you might not realise there are things other people would rather not talk about, or don’t think are important to talk about
Learning and hobbies

As an autistic teenager, you might:

  • have a lot of knowledge on particular topics, and spend a lot of time learning about them and telling others about them
  • have a hobby you feel very passionate about and spend a lot of time on
  • find it hard to start a new activity but get very focused on it once you get started – you might be able to focus on it better than most people
  • find it difficult to stop doing an activity you’re very focused on, even if you need to move on to something else – you might forget to eat or sleep
Emotions and relationships

As an autistic teenager, you might:

  • spend a lot of time being careful to avoid making social mistakes, or trying to make sure you don’t accidentally hurt anyone’s feelings
  • find that other people struggle to understand your feelings from your face or tone of voice
  • find that your friends are often older or younger than you
  • find that your friends tend to be autistic people
  • have to ask people to explain idioms (phrases that say one thing, when they’re actually talking about something else), for example: “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, which means “we’ll talk about that problem later”
  • have a clear idea of right and wrong, and strong views on issues that are important to you – you might struggle to understand exceptions to rules, or ‘grey areas’
  • find a lot of people don’t understand your sense of humour, and you might not understand why their jokes are funny
  • be trusting, and find people can often take advantage of you
  • find it hard to work out when someone is being unkind
Sensory (sights, smells, sounds, touch, and tastes)

As an autistic teenager, you might:

  • have a strong negative reaction to sounds, smells, sights, and things you can touch – for example, being unable to wear certain types of clothing or find it overwhelming being in places with a lot of different noises, like gyms
  • have a strong positive reaction to sounds, smells, sights, and things you can touch – for example, enjoying flashing, multi-coloured lights in nightclubs or how loud the music is at a concert
  • seek out certain sounds, smells, feelings or tastes because you find them particularly calming – for example, coloured lights or soft clothing and blankets
  • find making repetitive movements (often with your hands, fingers or legs) or sounds calming or enjoyable

Signs of autism in adults

As you age and experience different environments, life events, and circumstances, you might notice different signs of autism. You might also have developed coping strategies for environments you find difficult, changing the way you manage them.

Work and education

As an autistic adult, you might:

  • find it more difficult than most people to communicate in interviews – for example, talking about your skills – which can make it hard to get a job
  • find it more difficult than most people to keep a job – you may be good at your work, but it might be hard to have good relationships with colleagues and managers
  • have a lot of knowledge or feel very passionate about a subject that’s useful for your work or studies
  • find it difficult or frustrating when rules or ways of doing things don’t make sense to you
  • find it more difficult than most people would to work on a project or task that has unclear instructions for how to complete it
Relationships and being social

As an autistic adult, you might:

  • find socialising hard work – when others seem to have a lot of energy after meeting a group of friends, for example, you might feel exhausted
  • have had relationships with friends or partners end because you couldn’t understand how each other thought, behaved, and communicated
  • find dating challenging
  • prefer to be alone during breaks at work
  • find it difficult to make ‘small talk’ – meaning conversation about day-to-day things such as the weather – or understand the reasons for making small talk
  • enjoy spending time with other people, but find activities that don’t have clear ‘rules’ or a schedule – for example, going to parties or nightclubs – difficult because you aren’t sure what to do
  • prefer meeting up with people to do structured activities, like cooking or taking part in a shared hobby or interest
Hobbies and skills

As an autistic adult, you might:

  • have a lot of detailed knowledge about a particular topic or hobby and feel very passionate about it
  • find that the hobbies or topics you’re particularly passionate about have changed several times in your life
Communication and emotions

As an autistic adult, you might:

  • find other people often misunderstand you, or seem upset by things you say even if you don’t mean to upset them
  • find it hard to understand why people around you see a situation one way, and not the way you understand it
  • find change more difficult than most people do – things that disrupt your daily routine, like changes to your job or going on holiday, can make you feel stressed and anxious
Sensory (sights, smells, sounds, touch, and tastes)

As an autistic adult, you might:

  • have a strong negative reaction to sounds, smells, sights, and things you can touch – for example, being unable to wear certain types of clothing or find it overwhelming being in places with a lot of different noises, like busy buses or trains
  • have a strong positive reaction to sounds, smells, sights, and things you can touch – for example, enjoying lying under a weighted blanket, or the loudness of the music at a concert
  • seek out certain sounds, smells, feelings or tastes because you find them particularly calming – for example, coloured lights or soft clothing and blankets
  • find making repetitive movements (often with your hands, fingers or legs) or sounds calming or enjoyable

Autistic traits and diagnosis

Autistic traits – meaning things that autistic people often do, think, and feel – are often shared by people who don’t have autism too. This doesn’t mean that everyone is ‘a little bit autistic’, or that autistic people don’t need support.

To be diagnosed with autism, a person has to have a lot of autistic traits from birth, and those traits need to have a big effect on their life. In order to be diagnosed with autism, those traits must cause what a healthcare professional would call ‘clinically significant difficulties’ in their day-to-day life. This means that they have difficulties with day-to-day life due to their autistic traits and need to use their own ways of overcoming those difficulties, or the people in their life need to help them to overcome them, or both.

Being in a supportive environment makes a big difference to an autistic person’s wellbeing and quality of life.

Learn more about how autism is diagnosed

Other health conditions

People who have these conditions can be more likely to also have autism:

  • developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or learning disability
  • muscular dystrophy
  • Down's syndrome
  • cerebral palsy
  • epilepsy
  • neurofibromatosis – a number of genetic conditions that cause tumours to grow along the nerves (the main types are neurofibromatosis type 1 and neurofibromatosis type 2)
  • rare genetic conditions, including fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and Rett syndrome

Causes of autism

The exact cause of autism is unknown, but researchers think it’s at least partly genetic – that autism can run in the family. However, autism can also develop when there’s no family history. There’s no way to predict whether a child will be autistic, even if one or both of their parents are autistic.

More research is being done to find out which genes cause autism – it’s thought to be caused by more than one.

Living with autism

Like everyone else, autistic people can be happy and healthy in the right environment – however, the right environment for an autistic person can be different to the right environment for a non-autistic person.

Autism doesn’t mean that a person will need additional support to work, have relationships, or enjoy hobbies. However, many autistic people do need additional understanding or support to overcome the challenges caused by having autistic characteristics in a society where most people don’t have them.

Therapies for autistic people

There’s no cure for autism, and most autistic people wouldn’t want to be ‘cured’ even if it was possible. Many autistic people feel autism is part of their identity, and not something to be cured or treated.

Related conditions

Because of the difficulties they can experience, autistic people may need treatment or support for other conditions, including:

Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are often used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, both in people who have autism and people who don’t.

Psychological therapies can help to manage conditions linked with autism, like anxiety, but psychological therapies aren’t a treatment for autism itself. Therapy techniques might need to be adapted to work for an autistic person.

Challenges in daily living

Depending on what’s offered by your NHS board and local organisations, there are therapies to help overcome the challenges that autistic people can experience.

Possible therapies include:

  • help with communicating, both for autistic people and the people in their lives
  • groups for autistic people to share experiences and advice
  • sensory assessments and support with an occupational therapist to help find ways of managing and improving your environment and how you experience the world
  • training courses for loved ones, to help them understand autism and offer the best possible support

Finding the right therapies

Interventions that aim to ‘train out’ behaviours (like repetitive movements, for example) or force autistic people to behave like non-autistic people are unethical and often harmful. However, many autistic people can benefit from support in learning skills to overcome some of the difficulties they experience – this is different to forcing someone to change their behaviour.

For example, an autistic adult might want to learn extra social skills to improve their relationships at work, or a therapist may work with a child and parent to help them to develop their communication skills.

These therapies don’t aim to change a person’s autism, but to give them skills they can use. If you’re an autistic adult, the decision to have therapies for things like social skills should be yours. If you have an autistic child, any therapy they have should be with the aim of meeting their needs.

Learn about avoiding harmful and unhelpful therapies for autism

Autism and your environment

Sometimes, when a situation is too much to cope with due to sensory input (things you see, hear, feel, smell or taste), or being asked to do things that cause stress or distress, an autistic person can become overwhelmed.

Meltdowns and shutdowns

When an autistic person becomes overwhelmed and isn’t able to use or benefit from their coping strategies, they might have ‘meltdowns’ or ‘shutdowns’.

It’s important, for parents of autistic children in particular, to be aware that a meltdown isn’t a tantrum. A tantrum is something that a child can control, and tantrums often happen because a child wants something. A meltdown or shutdown isn’t something an autistic person can control, and it’s caused by being overwhelmed.

During a meltdown, an autistic person might try to make themselves feel less overwhelmed. This can include doing things like:

  • trying to get away from people – for example by running away or hiding
  • trying to get people away from them – for example by shouting, screaming, hitting, or acting aggressively 

During a shutdown, an autistic person might try to block everything out – for example by not responding to anything or anyone around them.

Read more about meltdowns

Challenging behaviour

Like everyone else, autistic people can display challenging behaviour if they’re in the wrong environment. While it can be challenging for the people around them, this behaviour is often a result of distress or frustration, particularly if an autistic person has difficulty with communicating.

Behaviour that challenges others is usually a way for someone to get their needs met when they don’t have any other way to do so. It’s not ‘bad’ behaviour, or intended to cause harm. This kind of behaviour is most common in children, or people who find it hard to communicate their needs – for example, people with a learning disability.

If you’re autistic, effective communication about your needs, and finding ways to have those needs met, can be helpful in reducing the distress that can lead to behaviour that challenges.

If someone in your life is autistic, or you’re the parent or caregiver of an autistic child, finding the right strategies for supporting their needs is important and helpful, and can be done if there’s effective support for everyone involved.

Behaviour that challenges can also be caused by:

  • trying to meet sensory needs – for example, wanting to do something because it feels nice, like rubbing soaps and creams all over themselves and the walls
  • wanting something – for example, being hungry or wanting to play with a toy
  • needing assistance or attention – for example, because they're bored or want help with a project at school
  • trying to escape an environment or the people around them, but doing so in a way that can be dangerous or harmful, such as running into the road

Behaviour that people can find challenging includes:

  • being destructive – breaking things, for example
  • being disruptive – making noise in class or throwing things, for example
  • self-harm
  • aggression

Help is available for anyone experiencing distress that might result in behaviour that challenges. Finding support can help you identify the reasons behind this behaviour and find other ways of communicating and meeting needs. Contact your GP or the healthcare professional who usually supports you for advice.

Getting the right environment

Environment is important to quality of life for autistic people. There are ways you can adapt (change) and improve your environment to make it as comfortable and supportive as possible for you or your child.

The social model of disability is a way of looking at the world that treats the difficulties people with disabilities have as being caused by barriers in society, rather than just the disabilities themselves. These barriers can be physical – for example, buildings not having accessible toilets. Barriers can also be caused by people’s attitudes – for example, many people will assume someone is lying because they don’t make eye contact while talking.

The social model of disability can be a helpful way of considering the difficulties someone faces, and how to adapt their environment so it works for them.

Learn more about the social model of disability

Autism is covered by the Equality Act (2010), which means that schools and employers are required to make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure autistic people are comfortable in their environment and able to learn or work.

Learn more about the Equality Act (2010)

Common changes to an environment that can help autistic people include:

  • sensory changes – for example, being given a quiet space to work, being able to use sensory toys like fidget spinners, or being allowed to make noises while working
  • communication changes – for example, using email or apps to communicate, using very clear language, allowing additional time to ask questions, or using visual communication such as photos or pictures as well as written words
  • routine – keeping to a regular routine and giving warning of any changes as far in advance as possible

Every autistic person is likely to benefit from different changes – the best way to find the right ones is to ask an autistic person, or in the case of a child, their parents or caregivers.

Learn more about autism from autistic people

Facts and myths about autism

There are many incorrect beliefs about autism, particularly the causes of autism or the best ways to overcome the challenges often faced by autistic people.

Causes

These things do not cause autism:

  • bad parenting
  • vaccines, or any ingredients in vaccines
  • trauma or distress at a young age
  • diet
  • infections

Fake treatments

There’s no cure for autism, but many people incorrectly believe there are ways to cure it, or to change the way autistic people experience and interact with the world.

Some fake treatments are dangerous – even the ones that aren’t dangerous are unethical, and none of them are helpful.

Harmful and dangerous fake treatments include:

  • any treatment that aims to ‘train out’ autistic behaviours, like forcing someone to stop making repetitive movements
  • any treatment that aims to train autistic people to do things that cause them distress, in an attempt to change their behaviour and remove autistic characteristics
  • hyperbaric oxygen therapy – treatment with oxygen in a pressurised chamber
  • chelation therapy, which uses medication or other methods to remove metal from the body
  • chlorine dioxide (CD), also called Mineral Miracle Solution (MMS) – this is a bleach solution given via enema which can cause severe distress and physical harm
  • neurofeedback – where an autistic person’s brain activity is monitored, usually by placing electrodes on their head, so they can see their brain activity on a screen and be told how to change it
  • facilitated communication – where a therapist or another person supports and guides an autistic person's hand or arm while using a device such as a computer keyboard or mouse
  • auditory integration training – this involves an autistic person listening to music that has changes in tone, pitch, and volume

There are some treatments that don’t have any evidence to suggest they’re helpful, but also don’t have evidence to suggest they’re harmful as long as they’re done safely. These include special diets, such as gluten-free or casein-free diets. Any special diet should only be done under the supervision of a dietician or nutritionist.

If you hear about a treatment that you want to try, always talk to your GP or the healthcare professional who usually supports you or your child first.

Spotting fake treatments

There are a number of ways to identify a fake treatment. People, organisations, or websites that promote fake treatments usually:

  • claim to ‘cure’ autism or help people ‘recover’ from autism
  • claim the treatment works quickly or instantly
  • claim the treatment can be done at home by anyone, and you don’t need training or qualifications
  • claim you can’t trust doctors to be honest with you, or say “doctors don’t want you to know about this”
  • ask autistic people, or parents of children with autism, to rely on their knowledge of their body or their child’s body instead of considering scientific evidence that can tell you whether a treatment is harmful or helpful
  • have no scientific evidence to prove they work, such as peer-reviewed studies or information from the NHS
  • mainly use personal stories as evidence that they work, which makes it hard to tell if the stories are true
  • advertise themselves with words like ‘miracle’, ‘faith’, and ‘trust’, or use religious phrases
  • charge a lot of money, and often require money to be paid on a regular basis
  • promote treatments for autism that aren’t available on the NHS, or claim to be ‘experimental’

Healthcare professionals have put together information on what treatments are safe and unsafe, and on ways to support autistic people effectively. If you’re unsure about any treatment, ask your GP or the healthcare professional who supports you or your child.

Learn more about safe, effective therapies

Reporting fake treatments

If someone tries to sell you a fake treatment, you can report them to Trading Standards.

If you see an advert for a fake treatment in the media, on a website or on social media, you can contact the Advertising Standards Authority.

If you see someone promoting a fake or harmful treatment on social media or a web forum, you can make a report to the administrators of that online community.

Learn more

There are a number of websites that can provide more information and advice for autistic people and their families:

Different Minds

Scottish Autism

The National Autistic Society

SIGN guidelines on autism

You can find information about local services and support using Scotland’s Service Directory.