What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong difference in how people think, perceive the world and interact with others. It is usually thought to be neurological.

An autistic person may see, hear, feel and experience the world differently from non-autistic people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental and positive aspect of their identity.


Autism is not a single set of ‘symptoms’ or characteristics. Autistic people all have some form of difference in social understanding or focus, but are very diverse.

In fact, autistic people can be more different from each other in interests and skills than non-autistic people are. This is why autism is called a ‘spectrum’. It is often said that ‘if you’ve met one autistic person… you’ve met one autistic person’.

Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support and the needs may vary over time. Autistic people learn and develop in their own way. With the right support, everyone can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.

Activities and sensitivities

Daily social activities can become very overwhelming for autistic people. Often the type of things neurotypical (non-autistic) people find easy, like small talk, attending social events, taking turns in conversation, or even returning a library book can be extremely difficult to manage for the autistic person.

Some autistic people may have sensitivity to sound or light, while others may be less sensitive, for example, to pain.

For many people, being autistic is a disability in itself. Other autistic people may only be disabled by social barriers or the expectations of others.

Non-autistic people can come to understand how an autistic person’s perception of the world can be both overwhelming and also very rewarding, for example appreciating colour, music and strong or compulsive interests, though some sounds or materials may cause an unpleasant reaction.

Autistic people report being overwhelmed by senses, including light, sound or perfume, and tend to find social interaction, particularly ‘small talk’, challenging.

What is happening in Hackney?

Our vision is to have an autism-friendly City and Hackney.

There is an Autism Alliance Board which has co-produced our local autism strategy which is informing and shaping services in the borough.

Autism Alliance Board

The Autism Alliance Board is made up of autistic individuals, carers and organisations who are working together to help autistic people and their carers/parents lead more fulfilling and rewarding lives.

There is an implementation group which is working to make the recommendations in the strategy happen over the next 5 years.

Autism strategy

What is the autism strategy?

The Council, along with the City of London, have co-produced a five-year autism strategy with autistic residents and their families and carers.

This strategy will help the Council and its partners to work together to make services and the community friendly to autistic residents.

How can I help to shape services as part of this plan?

We have engaged with residents, families, carers, organisations and businesses throughout the production of this strategy and this will continue as we develop the action plan for the first year.

If you would like to learn more about how you can get involved or to join our Experts by Experience group please email

Resources for autistic people

A communication card has been designed by the Autism Alliance Board’s Experts by Experience group. You can decide when and where to show your card and it has been designed to help in situations where you may find verbal communication difficult or impossible.

Request an autism card 

National Autistic Society has created a health passport for autistic people in case of admission to hospital.

Resources for those supporting autistic people 


Support with getting a diagnosis

The Adult Autism Service for City and Hackney is run by East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) and offers diagnosis, brief interventions and advice to adults living in City and Hackney who have not had a previous diagnosis. You need to be 18 or over and registered with a City and Hackney GP.

Information and support for children and young people and their parents/carers about diagnosis can be found on Local Offer.  

Page updated on: 11 October 2021