Video tutorial & slide sets

The third edition of the Guideline was released on 21 November 2022:

Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People now lead the Guideline and the Living Guideline process, in partnership with the Ministry of Education.

This is a video overview on referral of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) based on the booklet 'Does this person have ASD?'

This tutorial covers the basic signs of ASD, and what actions you can take if you suspect someone has ASD. The presenter, Anita Nicholls, is an early intervention teacher and parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder.

If you like the PowerPoint slides featured in this video, you can view or download them below.

[The video shows Anita addressing the audience.]

Anita: Hi, my name’s Anita Nicholls and I’m an early intervention teacher. I’m also the mum of a boy with autistic spectrum disorder, so in this session I’d like to talk about how to identify an autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum affects one person in every 100 so that means there’s about 40,000 New Zealanders with ASD. Some people will have a life-long difficulty while others will be less affected and they wouldn’t stand out in the crowd.

Most children grow and develop to reach a number of important milestones in their development as they grow older, and these milestones are most noticeable between the ages of 18 months and three years. It includes communication development so verbal and non-verbal, social development so that’s play and interacting with others, and cognitive development or thinking.

Many children have some delays in one or more of these areas but those who have a delay or difficulty in all three areas could have autism spectrum disorder. We’re going to look at each of these three areas in turn.

People with ASD can have a wide range of communication differences, for example some may have no verbal language or a lot of difficulty in understanding others. They may find it really difficult to communicate with others so a verbal child who uses words but doesn’t use those words to request or to share an experience with someone else.

Many children have a lot of difficulty following verbal instructions age appropriately. They may use language in unusual ways. They may often repeat or echo phrases that they’ve heard, perhaps on a TV show or a movie. They may seem to have very good verbal language but perhaps they’ve got a different accent from others in their family, perhaps an American accent that’s really quite, quite distinct, or they may have very, very overly formal or academic language.

Some children will have difficulty noticing and responding to facial expressions such as frowning or smiling, or body language such as gestures like pointing. People with ASD can stand out in social situations. They might prefer solitary activity or groups with fewer people. Children might play with toys in very unusual ways, very repetitively and inflexibly, perhaps lining up their favourite objects rather than playing a pretend game with others, or becoming really upset by changes to their fixed play routine. When another child enters their play, the child becomes very upset with the changes that that child makes to their play.

Adults might have a lot of difficulty with conversation or appear rude or unable to understand social rules. Many people with ASD can be very stressed without structure and predictability. They might make their own order by doing things in a very specific sequence, or needing to have things just so. My son needs very specific doors in our house open and others closed and he gets very upset when that’s not the way it is.

Many children can be very sensitive and react strongly to noise, smell, taste or touch, and some people have very strong interests in one particular object or topic and that’s what they want to talk about all the time.

People with ASD are all very different. They need very individualised assessment and support and it’s dangerous to assume that one person would have the same profile or need similar supports to another person. People with ASD can range from needing significant help with all day-to-day tasks, to those that can work and live independent lives.

If you suspect that someone you know might have ASD, it’s important that you approach the situation very carefully because remember ASD can be a serious, life-long disorder. While a great deal is known about how to minimise the impact of the condition, and some people make so much progress that their differences are negligible, others will have a significant disability.

There’s a huge amount of conflicting and somewhat dangerous information available from sources such as the internet. Immediate access to really good information could help to ensure that people access appropriate services and start to make progress.

It’s important that you talk to someone who is knowledgeable about ASD and experienced in sharing this sort of information with people or their families. You need to have considered their possible reaction to that very difficult news and be ready to give them the emotional support they need. Make sure they have access to the right referral and the appropriate agencies that they need to access.

Deciding if someone has ASD is complex and requires some assessments and screening tests before deciding whether or not to refer for formal diagnosis. Some people who might appear to have some of those differences might not meet the criteria, for example they might have difficulties in one or two areas but not all three.

Some people might have another condition such as a hearing impairment, ADHD or a serious condition like fragile x syndrome or Rhett’s syndrome. It’s important to continue to support people and their families during this process of assessment and diagnosis.

The community page on this website has links to the agencies that provide further information. Remember finding out about an autistic spectrum disorder is a very difficult thing, but that information is really vital. It will help you understand that person and make sure that person gets the help and support that they really need.


This slide set has been prepared for trainers and presenters to use.

  • To review: click on the thumbnail of the cover
  • To view presenter notes: download and save slide set, then open

If you use a slide to make your own presentation, please do not change the slide's contents.

We would welcome your feedback on how useful this slide set has been.

Presenter slides on recognising signs of possible ASD (ppt, 1.39 MB)
This slide set is based on the booklet 'What does ASD look like?' and is presented in the tutorial.

Quotes from people with ASD and their familes/whānau (ppt, 1.395 MB)
Supplement your slide presentations with quotes by people with autism spectrum disorder, their families/whānau or carers.

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