This Autism Acceptance Month, we wanted to take a closer look at what autism is, and discuss some of the characteristic traits that autistic people may display. Then, continuing our discussion about affirming care, we share some ways that autistic people and their families can advocate for themselves and their loved ones.
It’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum disorder, and each person with autism is unique. While these traits are more or less common among people on the spectrum, not everyone will exhibit all of them, and some people may exhibit additional traits that are not included here. We are also recognizing that our conceptualization of autism has likely been very narrow.
What is Autism?
According to the American Psychiatric Association,
“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior. While autism is considered a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning because of these challenges varies between individuals with autism.”
Even with the variances inherent to the spectrum, research has identified various traits that are common among autistic people. There is also a growing sentiment in the autistic community to move away from using the term “disorder” to define what it means to be autistic, and to speak to it as simply being a neurotype.
Autism Traits and Characteristics
Social Interaction Differences
Some autistic people Interact with others in ways that differ from non-autistic people. People with autism may not feel comfortable making eye contact and may not be adept at interpreting nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and body language. Other autistic people may have difficulties meeting existing expectations for in terms of social “norms”. This can lead to social isolation and difficulty forming and maintaining friendships, primarily because many non-autistic people fail to recognize the nuances of neurodiversity.
The American Psychiatric Association explains that these social differences may include:
- Decreased sharing of interests with others
- Difficulty appreciating their own & others’ emotions
- Aversion to maintaining eye contact
- Lack of proficiency with use of non-verbal gestures
- Stilted or scripted speech
- Interpreting abstract ideas literally
- Difficulty making friends or keeping them
People with autism may have a strong need for sameness and predictability in their environment, and may become upset or anxious when their routines are disrupted. They may engage in repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping or spinning, or have a narrow range of interests and hobbies.
These behaviors, known as “stimming” help autistic people regulate or self-soothe. Many of us, autistic or not, stim in one way or another (clicking a pen, twirling hair, drumming fingers, whistling or humming), but when it’s subtle it isn’t considered, by society, to be “weird.” Due to the fact that stimming of autistic people can be noticeable, however, the behavior is often labeled in negative ways.
Some autistic people experience sensory processing difficulties. They may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to certain sensory stimuli, such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures. This can lead to sensory overload or shutdown, which can be overwhelming and distressing.
Language and communication difficulties are also common autism traits. People with autism may have delayed language development or struggle with expressive language, such as initiating and maintaining conversations. They may also have difficulty understanding sarcasm or non-literal language, and may take things very literally.
It’s important to note that, in some cases, these traits can be a symptom of, or a contributing factor for, a phenomenon known as “autistic burnout.” Spectrum News explains, “Burnout can sometimes result in a loss of skills: An autistic woman who usually has strong verbal abilities may, for example, suddenly find herself unable to talk.” Further, they explain that:
Burnout is often a consequence of camouflaging, or masking, a strategy in which autistic people mimic neurotypical behavior by using scripts for small talk, forcing themselves to make eye contact, or suppressing repetitive behaviors. These strategies can help autistic people in their jobs and relationships but require immense effort.
Certainly not all autism traits are challenges. And with an affirming approach, such as making adaptations and accommodations for a variety of neurotypes, the impact of these challenges is much less disruptive or stressful to the individual, allowing for everyone to thrive and be their authentic selves. Autistic people have strengths and talents, such as
- exceptional memory
- attention to detail
These strengths can be harnessed and used to enhance their quality of life and their role in their broader communities.
Understanding these autism traits is an important step towards creating a more inclusive society that supports and celebrates neurodiversity. By recognizing and valuing the strengths and challenges of people with autism, we can work together to create a more equitable and supportive world for all.
Autism Accommodations and Advocacy
Self-advocacy is an important skill for autistic people to develop, whenever possible, as it empowers them to express their needs and advocate for themselves in various settings. Here are some ways that autistic people can self-advocate:
Learn about autism
Educating oneself about autism and its associated traits is crucial to understanding one’s own strengths and challenges. This knowledge can help individuals with autism to better communicate their needs and advocate for themselves.
Identify strengths and challenges
Understanding one’s own strengths and challenges can help individuals with autism to communicate their needs and advocate for accommodations or support. It’s important to focus on one’s strengths and talents, and use them to build self-confidence and self-esteem.
Develop communication skills
Developing effective communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, is crucial for self-advocacy. Practicing self-expression, assertiveness, and active listening can help individuals with autism to communicate their needs and assert their rights.
Seek out support
Seeking out support from peers, mentors, or professionals can help individuals with autism to develop self-advocacy skills and learn strategies for self-expression and assertiveness.
Identify and communicate needs
It’s important for individuals with autism to identify and communicate their needs, whether it’s for accommodations, support, or resources. This can involve being specific about what kind of support is needed and why, and identifying what types of accommodations or resources would be helpful.
By all means this responsibility should not fall on the shoulders of autistic people alone. It is not the onus of the autistic community to educate the masses about autism. Instead, it is the responsibility of the community to work to understand the needs and nuances of the neurodivergent segments of society.
Be confident and persistent
Self-advocacy requires confidence and persistence. It’s important for individuals with autism to speak up for themselves and advocate for their needs, even in the face of obstacles or challenges. The Autism Research Insitute provides some very helpful advice:
“When requesting accommodations, it is essential to be reasonable. For example, it may not be feasible for a person with aural sensitivities to ask for a manager to lower the volume at a movie theater with other patrons. However, there may be different ways to accommodate that person, such as earplugs or headphones.”
By developing their self-advocacy skills, autistic people can better navigate social and educational settings, access resources and support, and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives.
Loved ones can play a crucial role in supporting individuals with autism. Here are some ways they can help:
- Learn about autism: Educating oneself about autism and its associated traits is crucial to understanding the unique challenges and strengths of the individual. This knowledge can help loved ones to better communicate and connect with the person on the spectrum.
- Communicate effectively: People with autism may communicate differently so it’s important to communicate in a clear and direct manner. You may wish to avoid using figurative language, sarcasm, or other forms of non-literal language. Additionally, using visual aids, such as pictures or written instructions, can be helpful.
- Create a structured environment: People with autism may feel more comfortable and secure in an environment that is predictable and structured. Creating routines and schedules can help to provide a sense of order and stability.
- Advocate for them: Loved ones can advocate for the individual with autism by educating others about autism and its associated traits, and advocating for their needs and rights. This can help to create a more inclusive and understanding society.
By implementing these strategies and offering support, loved ones can help individuals with autism to thrive and reach their full potential.
the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.
Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.
To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.
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