It’s a condition that suffers from many misconceptions.
The perception of autism has been largely influenced by Oscar winning Hollywood film Rain Man.
Viewers of the 1988 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise were left believing the main feature of autism was a prodigal ability at maths.
While that may be true for some, the main feature of the lifelong disability is a difficulty communicating with, and relating to, other people.
People with autism also struggle with imagination and social interaction.
One family who know autism better than most are the Kilgallons of Mirfield.
Dad, Martin, and mum, Anne-Marie, have two young children who both have the disability.
Tolan, 4 and Fredi, 3, are both autistic, although Fredi is yet to be officially diagnosed.
Martin and his wife, 35, have now launched a support group for other parents with autistic children.
The group, The Whole Autism Family, meets at the SureStart Centre at Dewsbury Moor to share experiences and help campaign for better support from the NHS and Kirklees Council.
Martin, 41, a vending company managing director, said he was guilty himself of basing much of his views of autism on the Hollywood film.
“I was probably one of those people,” he said.
“But the spectrum’s that wide it’s impossible to say, ‘that’s an autism sufferer’.
“The problem for the public is they just see Rain Man – but it’s not that simple, it’s far more complicated.
“You can’t really describe it in a couple of words unfortunately.
“Because it’s fairly invisible, it’s not as recognised as somebody with a physical disability.
“Some children have super-sensitive hearing, just the buzzing from the fluorescent lights can be enough to send them into meltdown.
“You’ll see some wearing ear defenders to try and stop this.
“The support group helps to bring everyone together with similar difficulties, for instance battling against the NHS.
“You do hear it when you go that everybody’s up against the same battles.
“It also helps people access services – one lady wasn’t aware of disabled childrens’ services for wheelchairs.
“It also helps siblings. We’ve got two older boys who don’t have autism and we feel they sometimes miss out as we concentrate on the two with the disability.
“The group will bring families together and help them connect.
“We’ve applied for charity status and going forward there will be trips such as autism showings at the cinema and autism swimming sessions.”
The fight to get a diagnosis for the children has been one of the main hurdles for the family.
Martin said for a while they mistakenly thought Tolan had hearing problems.
“We thought he was deaf,” said Martin, “as when we called his name he wouldn’t respond.
“We took him to the audiology unit at Dewsbury Hospital and luckily a lady there said she thought it was something else.
“Without her, we’d have probably carried on going through the system thinking he was deaf.
“With Fredi, again, he didn’t respond to his name, but there was also things like he’d flap his hands and do a lot of spinning.
“With both there’s no way I can call their names, they don’t respond, they just carry on with what they’re doing.
“So we’ve had to find other ways to respond.”
Martin said they’d had little support from the NHS in north Kirklees and had been waiting 18 months for an official diagnosis for Fredi.
Without the diagnosis they cannot progress their case for health care and educational needs.
North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield clinical commissioning groups told the Examiner they were aware of the delays and had put more funding into the service.
In the meantime the family are paying for private tutors for the boys to have applied behavioural analysis – a repeat and reward system.
The family also use a picture system to help learning and to communicate for instance if the boys want a drink they have a book with pictures that shows what they want.
Daily life with a child with autism means lots of compromises.
The boys cannot tolerate many everyday scenarios and have to be trained how to cope.
“We want to get as many people as possible to know what it’s like,” said Martin.
“People just do not know, they see a child misbehaving in a supermarket, lying on the floor, you naturally go ‘naughty child’.
“I used to do it myself. It’s not always the case.
“I’m so much more open minded now.
“We can manage a small shop in a supermarket if we time it right.
“We’re very structured on meal times, bath time and bed time.
“If you miss it it throws them completely. They like routine.
“We do try different things but you have to bring it in gradually.
“With the supermarket we can now do 30 minutes but we started with five minutes and built it up.
“We’re now going into pubs, cafes and busy environments for five minutes to build them up for a restaurant meal.
“One of the other issues is they have no concept of danger, we’ve had to put gates up to stop Tolan running into the road.”
The youngsters’ work with pictures includes simple exercises such as learning to take off their coats, or how to use cutlery.
“We’re instilling the everyday skills they’ll need to live an every day normal life,” said Martin.
“But probably when they’re older they’ll still need some kind of care.”
The group recently hosted an ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ style bush-tucker challenge fundraiser.
The event raised more than £4,000 of the £5,000 they need to register as an official charity.
Group member, Rachel Allatt, whose son Joseph is autistic, said: “The group coming together has been absolutely fabulous and I’m grateful to the people who have been very generous and put the time in to raise money because it’s such a worthwhile cause.
“To be able to talk to other mums in the same position as you is so, so vital.
“The support helps in ways a lot of people might not understand.”