It's a really misunderstood condition and even the experts disagree about exactly what it is or what causes it. As a result, people with autism often have a really tough time - and that's not just the ones who are severely affected. There are a plenty of people walking around who you might not think are autistic until they do or say something that you think is odd. Famous people like that include TV presenter Chris Packham actors Daryl Hannah and Dan Akroyd musician Gary Numan and the fictional female cop character in TV Scandi drama The Bridge.
Take a look at the list of facts below and see which ones you didn't know - and find out how you can support autistic colleagues and support neurodiversity at work.
1. Autistic people have brains that developed differently. That's why they think and behave differently to most neurotypical people.
3. Autism effects everyone differently (met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism). Not everyone is on the autistic spectrum, only people with the diagnosed neurological condition. People with 'high functioning' autism used to be diagnosed as having Asperger's
4. Autism is not the same as mental health or learning difficulties. Sometimes autistic people can also have these conditions. They often have other, associated problems such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or light and sound sensitivity. Autism is part of a group of neurological conditions which also includes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
5. Autism can be easier to spot in men than in women. This is probably because women are working harder to try to conform to society's expectations. Consequently fewer women are diagnosed and often later in life.
6. Autistic people don't necessarily lack empathy. They're actually experiencing an overload of input from the world around them. This can lead to sensory overloads, or melt downs, so they need to take regular breaks alone in a quiet place.
7. Autistic people can be sociable. But they are often very direct, see things in 'black and white' and don't understand the need for small talk. This can mean they're experienced as rude. Autistic people find it hard to interpret non-verbal signals, pick up on moods or take turns to speak. They find hints and sarcasm unnecessary and confusing.
8. Most autistic people find eye contact tiring and uncomfortable and some speak in a monotone voice. People with autism typically prefer routine and to know and plan things in advance.
9. You can help an autistic person at work by being very clear about what you want, giving clear deadlines and measures of success. Allow them to avoid big meetings, work independently in a quiet area and to take regular sensory breaks. Don't judge them if they don't take part in watercooler conversations and nights out or if they say something that seems odd or insensitive.
10. You can get the best out of an autistic person at work by giving them intellectually challenging projects to complete and deliver. Value and encourage their unique 'out of the box' thinking. Support them to speak and contribute in group situations. Encourage them in team working and adapting to change. Above all promote an atmosphere of neurodiversity and acceptance.