The understanding and attitude towards autism varies between people and communities. Some notice the signs of autism in near and dear ones and immediately seek treatment. However there are some who are still ignorant or not very clear about the impact of autism in someone. If you have someone in your family, neighborhood, school or workplace who show these symptoms, you can be considerate of that individual and speak to them or their family so they can receive support.
EditUnderstanding Childhood Difficulties
- Look for developmental differences. Autistic children may develop more quickly in some areas and more slowly than others. They may need help learning to communicate, walk, read, and more. It has been described as a "different road entirely."
- Children who do not learn to speak right away can use AAC such as sign language, picture exchange communication systems (PECS), picture boards, and more. Don't be afraid that using alternative communication systems will hold back language; it won't hold them back, may actually encourage verbalizations, and can bridge the gap until they learn to speak (if they are ever able to).
- Children who have trouble controlling their bodies may not be able to let on that they are thinking more deeply than others realize.
- Some autistic children develop at an average or fast speed relative to their non-autistic peers. Delayed skills may not be visible until childhood, teen, or adult years.
- Keep an eye on communication struggles. Autistic children may have difficulty expressing themselves, and understanding others.
- They may find it hard to express how they feel.
- They tend to think literally, and may have trouble understanding implications, hints, metaphors, or tasks that require them to "read between the lines."
- They may not understand body language, and have difficulty recognizing what it means and how to use it.
- Other people may judge them negatively for being different. Harsh, critical, or cruel feedback may make an autistic child feel anxious about socializing.
- Recognize how school can be harder for autistic children. Some autistic children may need extra help learning the material, while others may be underchallenged and bored. Regardless of intelligence, many autistic students struggle to stay organized, communicate with teachers, handle transitions, and stay on top of all the bustle of a school day. Extra support can help meet their unique needs.
- A school can form an IEP to identify the student's strengths and needs, and set goals for learning at their individual pace.
- Untreated co-occurring health problems, such as anxiety disorders or digestive issues, may cause them to miss school more often.
- Not all support and "tutoring" is based in academic subjects, either. Autistic children may benefit from educational therapy or coaching for executive functioning and organization/time-management skills. Tutoring sessions on learning how to study, how to organize your time, and how to approach assignments can be just as helpful, if not more so, than tutoring focused on the actual academic subject.
- Consider how autistic kids may struggle to make friends. Autistic people find it difficult to read non-autistic body language, and understand what their peers are thinking. Therapies such as RDI can help autistic children learn to communicate well with people who are so different from them.
- Recognize the risk of bullying. Autistic people are more likely to be targeted by bullies, and may not know how to respond to it or recognize the types of bullying. A specialist can help them recognize when someone is being mean and develop an action plan for getting help (and what to do if adults are unhelpful).
- Take your loved one seriously if they say someone is deeply upsetting them. Even if you don't fully understand it, let them know that their emotions are important and you care about the problem.
- Autistic children may find an easier time making friends who are also disabled, as these children are less likely to judge the child for being different.
- Notice self care issues. The child may struggle with motor skills (e.g. tying shoes), disorganization, and confusion about how to do a task. A therapist can help them learn to take care of themselves, and teach life skills that they'll need in adulthood. Skills like brushing your teeth and preparing snacks can be taught in a structured setting, and then generalized with support until they can be practiced independently at home.
- Consider sensory issues. Hypersensitivity may make some things difficult or painful to tolerate, such as the sound of sirens or the feel of a scratchy tag. Hyposensitivity may mean a hyperactive child, who is always moving and has difficulty focusing or sitting calmly.
- An occupational therapist can help you build a "sensory diet" of activities to improve sensory issues, both by sating the need for input and acclimating the child to difficult input.
- Sensory issues may lead to self-injurious stimming, which needs to be redirected into something non-harmful.
- Understand the need for routine. Uncertainty and unpredictability can be frightening to autistic children. Having a consistent routine helps them predict what happens next, and can help them feel calmer.
- Having a calendar, picture schedule, or written schedule can help them understand what will happen.
- Consider the need to stim and fidget. Autistic children may move and act in different ways, like rocking back and forth, flicking their fingers, humming, spinning, and doing other unique things. While it can look unusual, it is important to the child's well-being.
- If the stim is causing harm to the child or other people, you can help them choose a different stim.
- Recognize difficulties with stress. Painful sensory issues, social challenges, disruptions from routine, negative feedback from adults, and all kinds of difficulties can be very stressful for autistic people. Stress management can be hard for an autistic person, and they may melt down or shut down when they are overwhelmed.
- Autistic children may need more time to relax than other children do. This can help them stay calmer.
- Keep in mind that every autistic child is different. It's normal for autistic children to have problems that are not mentioned here, and to not have serious troubles in every area. As you get to know a child, you will learn about their unique abilities and needs.
EditUnderstanding Adulthood Difficulties
Autism is a lifelong disability, and its childhood symptoms continue into adulthood. Autistic adults face new challenges as they grow older.
- Recognize that childhood symptoms do not fade upon turning 18. Many autistic adults continue to struggle with understanding others, staying organized, sensory issues, and other challenges. This can impact future school, work, relationships, and home life.
- Consider the existence of developmental delays. Autistic people learn skills at their own pace, sometimes faster and sometimes slower than their peers. Thus, an autistic adult may be highly specialized, perhaps writing award-winning poetry while being unable to hand wash dishes or clean the bathroom. These developmental delays can pose a challenge during transitions to college, work, or one's own place to live.
- A 25-year-old could have the expertise of a 40-year-old in computer science, but have the self care skills of a 10-year-old. Just as it would be inappropriate to expect a 10-year-old to live independently, many autistic adults need continued support despite being at an age where neurotypicals can be independent.
- Realize they may need some accommodations in educational settings. Education doesn't have to stop after high school. However, in many countries, the university and college system is very different from the secondary school environment, and it may require autistic students to be self advocates in a way they haven't been before. In the US in particular, students may need to disclose their autism to their institutions in order to be eligible for accommodations. Depending on their needs, they may be eligible for help like a note taker or extended time for tests.
- Recognize that autistic adults may have difficulty working. Some autistic people cannot handle complex or abstract tasks, and may need to work minimum-wage jobs, such as in an assembly line. Others may be quite capable intellectually, and struggle with issues such as disorganization, chronic anxiety, and working in teams.
- Support from specialists may be the difference between a waitressing job and unemployment, or between job-hopping and finding a stable and fulfilling job.
- Consider social challenges that autistic adults face at work. Work comes with a completely new set of unspoken social rules, which may be difficult for autistic adults to pick up. Many autistic adults rely upon mentors to help with questions from "What should I wear?" to "How do I handle this situation with my boss?"
- Look out for self-esteem issues, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Diagnosed late or early, autistic people may suffer from being left out and failing to meet non-autistics' expectations. Autistic people may need extra encouragement and support from their loved ones, to reassure them that they are loved just they way they are.
- Know the warning signs of suicide.
- Recognize that relationships can be a struggle for autistic people. Autistic people find social interactions difficult, and this can include building and maintaining romantic relationships.
- Consider needs in the household. Some autistic people struggle to keep their home in order. Cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and other everyday chores may be challenging or impossible. This may be related to motor skills, intellectual ability, and/or disorganization.
- If married, an autistic adult may be able to rely upon their spouse for housework. Others may continue living with parents or loved ones. Some are eligible for disability support, such as an agency that cleans for them.
- Remember that every autistic person is unique. An autistic person may struggle a lot in one area, and need no help in another. They'll have needs not described here, related to their background, personality, other traits, and other disabilities (if any). Look at the autistic person as an individual when considering what they need.
- Different autistics will need different accommodations and supports. For example, one autistic person might desperately need a quiet workplace, while another enjoys noise and bustle. Tailor accommodations to the individual.
- A therapy or approach that works for one autistic person may not work for another.
- Consider therapies and medications to help your autistic loved one. Many types of therapies are available that can teach the person needed skills, from cooking to asking for help. Medications can help with co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and epilepsy.
- Look into living opportunities for autistic adults. They may be able and eager to live alone completely independently, or with minimal support from roommates or loved ones. However, there are also lots of alternatives available if they need or desire a more supportive structure. Get your loved one evaluated to see what types of services they qualify for. This may include...
- In-home services, such as cooking and cleaning
- Group homes
- Quality institutions
- Ensure that all caregivers have a support network. Caring for children and adults is a challenge, and parents/caregivers should get assistance as needed.
- Look into respite services, which allow caregivers to take a break to re-center themselves.
- Encourage caregivers to engage with the Autistic community, which can offer advice, since its members were once autistic children. (It can also show them what autistic adults look like, and autistic people can be good friends as well as non-autistics.)
- Recognize that not all autistic traits need to be treated. Autism also comes with positive traits: systematizing skills, attention to detail, and visual perceptiveness. Other traits, such as deep focus and most stimming, are different but harmless. Rather than stamping autism out of the autistic person, the goal should be helping them grow into a capable, happy, and confident autistic adult.
- Training people to act "normal" and blend in at all costs can be harmful. If your therapist pushes this, say that this is not okay with you, or get a new therapist.
- Celebrate and work on their strengths. Helping an autistic person doesn't only mean working on their weaknesses; it includes building their strengths. Encourage them to develop, explore, and share their skills.
- Harness their strengths to help them learn new things. For example, a young child who loves dogs could learn to count by counting pictures of dogs, and a student interested in stars could practice public speaking by giving a presentation on stars.
- Avoid overly intensive therapies. Autistic people (especially children) should be able to enjoy undirected free time, so they can explore things that interest them, and have fun.
- Encourage your loved one to interact with the Autistic community. In-person and online friendships with other autistic people can support their self-esteem, and they can share coping strategies with each other. Consider...
- Autism/disability play groups
- Special Olympics
- Support groups for disabled/autistic people
- Online Autistic community, through #ActuallyAutistic, #AskAnAutistic, and #REDinstead
- Ensure that the autistic person receives plenty of love and support. It's challenging to be an autistic person in a non-autistic world, and your loved one may fear that no one will like them, or that they are a burden. Surround them with people who love them just the way they are. Give them plenty of evidence of their worth.
- Some therapies and institutions use abusive "aversives" to inflict pain as a punishment, or push the autistic person to act "normal," even though it may cause psychological pain. Do some research to ensure that your loved one is safe, and take notice if the therapy/institution is upsetting them.
- Support an Autistic Person
- Treat Autism
- Understand Autistic Strengths
- Reduce Meltdowns and Tantrums in Autistic Children
- Handle an Autistic Child's Behavior
- Teach an Autistic College Student
- Help Autistic Children Deal with Transitions
- Choose AAC for an Autistic Person
- Make a Behavior Intervention Plan for an Autistic Child
- Help an Autistic Child Transition Into Adulthood
EditSources and Citations
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