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What is Autism?

In Scouts, we celebrate diversity and autistic adults and young people are welcome in our Scout Groups. There're already some great things we do as Scouts that support young autistic people, such as our structured sessions and our balanced programme.

The range of activities and experiences offered, help them and their non-autistic friends in many ways to develop skills for life. However, there're also some things that people on the autism spectrum may find challenging and need extra support with.

We are committed to helping adults in Scouts understand autism and to provide resources and guidance to help volunteers. These pages are designed to help you to better understand and support young autistic people and autistic adults in Scouts.

Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.

Autistic people are autistic for life. Autism is not an illness or disease, and it can’t be ‘cured’. All autistic people share certain characteristics, but being autistic affects different people in different ways. Autism can have both positive and negative effects on someone’s life.

Autistic people will share diagnostic areas, but the ways these areas present are different for everyone. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health needs, or other conditions, so people need different levels of support.

There're different names you might hear used for Autism, which reflect different features that individuals present with and when a diagnosis was made.

Research from 2015 suggests that there isn't one term that everyone prefers. Many prefer first person ‘autistic person’, rather than ‘person with autism’ and this first-person terminology is used on these pages.

It’s important to check with the person (and their family in the case of young people) about the language they use to talk about their diagnosis. For example, some autistic young people or adults who join Scouts may have already been given a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, and they may prefer to use this term when talking about their diagnosis.

You can read more about these terms on the National Autistic Society pages.

Common characteristics of autistic people include the following:

  • Differences in social communication and interaction
  • Repetitive behaviours and a preference for routine
  • Special interests or an intense focus on interests that may be very important to them
  • Sensory sensitivities or differences

The characteristics of autism vary from one person to another. It’s often said that the differences that autistic girls experience present more subtly, or appear subtle to others.

Some autistic girls (and all genders) mask their autism to try and hide the fact that they feel different or to manage in their environment. To do this, they may copy behaviour from others around them and can be exhausted by the constant effort to appear similar to others. They may be unaware they’re ‘masking’.

Some autistic people may have an additional diagnosis, such as Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). Individuals with this profile of autism have a tendency to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. Many of the strategies on these pages will also help individuals with PDA, but others will not. 

Funding to support additional needs

Apply for funding to support additional needs. 

Additional Needs

Autism Activities

Explore our Autism friendly activities made in Partnership with the National Autistic Society. 

Autism Activities

To watch in full screen, double click the video

WATCH: A webinar about our new training

A walkthrough of our autism training by James - a District Commissioner and member of the UK Scout training inclusion team.

Watch to learn what is meant by autism, how we can adapt our language, be able to best support young people and much more.

Stream on Vimeo