What is Autism? According to The National Autism Society “Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.” (1)
Like other conditions, autism can affect different people in different ways; it truly covers a wide spectrum of symptoms and traits. For some they can also have mental health issues, learning issues and other conditions.
Autistic people feel, hear and see the world differently to others around them and this can sometimes feel a lonely and frightening place, causing them to find connecting with others around them harder as being able to ‘read’ social situations is harder, which can lead to isolation. However, with support it is possible to lead a full and varied life.
Some people with Autism show a huge amount of interest in a particular hobby or pastime that enables them to focus all their energies and passion into that particular subject. This trait however, can be used to their advantage to study, volunteer or get work and channel their expertise and skills into that subject. In the past these people with good vocabulary (often learnt rather than understood) and intelligence, were labelled as having Aspergers Syndrome. This label is being referred to less as their needs are very similar to those with high functioning autism.
People with autism like routine and order whether it is having the same food for lunch every day, or using the same route to school or work and need more time to prepare for any changes so they can adjust accordingly.
Communicating and mixing socially can be difficult for people living with autism, they want to join in and form friendships but find it hard to distinguish at which point to speak and when to listen and how to interpret the subtle information they are given, as may have difficulty reading facial expressions, body language and find eye contact difficult, which can result in feeling isolated or find it harder coping with school or work.
We can help by:-
1) Addressing the person by their name so they know you’re talking to them;
2) Engaging with them, especially if they are doing an activity or have an interest in something;
3) Stick to fewer questions and instructions;
4) Talking slower and keeping questions short and sweet thus giving the person more time to process the information as processing information can take longer;
5) Give them advanced notice of when a transition is going to occur, i.e. “10/5 minutes before we are going home” to give them time to adapt.
For those coping with children or loved ones with autism can be quite a challenge at times. Trying to understand their unique model of the world is a skill and emotionally draining at times. The last thing these people need are the general public looking down at them making unhelpful comments about how they should be disciplining their children. It may be tempting to think we know how to raise all children based on our own experiences, however, children with autism do offer another level of challenge;
So if you see a child showing challenging behaviour be:-
1) Kind and patient;
2) Give the parents/carer dealing with their child/family member empathy;
3) Give the child who is reacting extremely some understanding;
4) Be thankful you are not having to deal with that behaviour at that moment.
5) Let us support each other, seek empathy & understanding and think what could the bigger picture be.
Can’t imagine how frightening everyday situations can be for someone living with autism so having a better understanding of the condition and adapting slightly can be a great way to reach out to someone, both the person with ASD and also the carers doing their best.
For more information on autism contact The National Autism Society (NAS) http://www.autism.org.uk/