I WAS crying with relief.

A psychologist had just told me that a panel of experts had got together, after a nine-month series of assessments, and officially diagnosed my daughter with an autism spectrum condition.

It was a huge relief because I finally knew why she struggled so much with certain aspects of life. With recognition comes understanding, I thought, and with understanding comes progress.

They handed me a leaflet and I read the front of it. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut.

"Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects the way people perceive the world and interact with others," it said. "There is no cure."

I didn't like that leaflet at the time, and I still don't. While I'd rather have the truth, explaining it in such broad, bleak terms just seemed so negative. Autism is that, but it is so much more.

I went home and I watched my daughter. She doesn't 'look' disabled. To the outsider, she is a perfectly normal pre-teenager, with a tendency to hide behind me when strangers speak to her.

We always thought she was just shy. Looking back, she hated the feel of sand on her feet, scratchy labels, loud alarms, and I often watched her play with her peers and thought she was bossy because they all had to play the games her way.

She doesn't tick a lot of the boxes people might associate with autism. She has a huge imagination, she is very creative and she absolutely hates maths and science. She doesn't line things up in a row and she doesn't have any unusual obsessions with trains or bus timetables – hers is the more mainstream preoccupation with Harry Potter.

She has a great sense of humour, and does 'get' most jokes, although she hates jokes at other people's expense. She is incredibly empathetic in some ways, and not at all in others.

Her thinking is very fixed and as she is getting older her social challenges are becoming more apparent, and her anxiety is growing. Social norms that are instinctive to you and I are often beyond her understanding. The single most challenging thing, though, for me as a parent as well as for her, is that other people just don't really understand. Autism is a complex condition which varies hugely between individuals.

This week is autism awareness week, which is fantastic, but simply paying lip service to autism by lighting up buildings isn't really going to cut it any more.

If you know someone with autism, or someone you suspect has it, then really try and understand them. If the world understood my beautiful little girl a bit better than her life would be so much easier.

If her friends could only understand why she reacts the way she does sometimes, and give her support and space to calm down, if family members knew not to tell her off when she has a meltdown but wait until it is passed, or if people only knew that when she asks them to turn the music down it's because it sounds like a marching band inside her head, then her world would be so much better.

She's not just autistic, she's so much more. If the world understood her better, she could achieve so much. That is why true autism awareness is so important.