As part of #autismawarenessweek I wanted to share some thoughts on what I like to call The A Team.
So I re-shared this acronym I penned from last year:
A is not atypical
There are many reasons why autism is assumed as having an ‘atypical’ presentation.
Stereotypical images and stories that plague social media of phenomenal geniuses, ususally male, that hit the headlines by doing something amazing define our conscious awareness of autism.
They are amazing and the letter A could be for amazing.
But this does not cover every single individual on the autism spectrum or the experiences they may face in life.
Atypical behaviours like hand flapping, making no eye contact or lining up toys are just a few of the traits that may indicate autism.
However, they are completely generalised and there are so many more, lesser known indicators. Biting or chewing on clothes and toys, clenching fists, fidgeting or copying behaviour from peers are to name just a few.
These individuals may lack an intuitive understanding of language, may be unable to grasp social hierarchies or not have the emotional regulation that is more expected of their age group.
Autism is certainly not defined as atypical and we need to grasp this concept before we can diagnose all individuals on the spectrum.
Girls and autism is one of the key areas that is lacking research as their cluster of traits often differ and are not picked up in diagnostic assesments.
Many individuals are failed by the system that only diagnoses using ‘atypical’ presentations.
U needs understanding
Unless you have autism, or live with it in the family, may you then begin to imagine how it can impact your life. It affects the whole family as they must adapt living and adjust to individual needs.
Phrases get thrown around like it’s only mild autism, or they are high-functioning. This actually only refers to the cognitive ability they have and intelligence does not indicate how much a person may suffer or experience trauma from being misunderstood.
In other words, the person still has a social, emotional and communication disorder which will impact their life. In fact, contrary to assumption, it can be EVEN more debilitating when you are fully aware that your brain is not wired the same way as you perceive it should be. To have the awareness that you may feel differently is another multi-faceted layer to overcome.
A person with autism needs understanding and compassion, instead of punishing the way they interpret the world.
T takes time to process
When a person doesn’t answer it may not actually mean they are ignoring the speaker or choosing to not comply. Often, they are taking the time to process the communication or thinking about whether they can process the demand.
One of the most infuriating things to somebody’s self-esteem is to talk above an individual’s head as if they cannot understand. I would go as far as saying this is treating them with complete ignorance.
If a person is non-verbal it also doesn’t mean they can’t understand or communicate in another fashion.
Try to allow for processing time.
Do not bombard someone when they are in overload, they will also not be able to process or learn from their actions.
Time is key.
I can be impulsive
Being impulsive can often lead to behaviours that an individual may often regret afterwards.
Punishing someone for being impulsive (something they are not able to have control of) will just fuel their frustration further.
Not being able to wait, or to be patient, or to cope in an over-sensitised environment is not something they choose.
It is a reaction to the environment and/or stimuli – not a pre-ordained behavioural choice.
S has heightened senses
How would you feel if you were not able to filter out things you didn’t want to see, or hear, or smell, or feel, or need?
Can we actually imagine what it may feel like to go into an overload from having a heightened reaction to external stimuli?
An expression I heard a while ago, which I love, is that autism may be better understood as a disability of trust. If your senses were not able to decode or were heightened to the extreme, would you be able to trust the messages they were telling you??
What if they continuously told you that you were in danger?
Here is a short film called Diverted, by the National Autistic Society, which attempts to re-create how it could feel.
A stimulation video may only give a sense to the viewer, but how do we really know how it feels unless we experience it for ourselves?
It may help us to not judge and use the word ‘naughty’ when a person is in a fight or flight meltdown as a result.
Or better yet punish them for their physical response to this.
We have a long way to go as a society to understand how sensory processing affects a person’s behaviour.
At last, here is my favourite:
M makes ME unique!
As with any scrutiny of the human condition – life experiences, family dynamics, social hierarchy and best of all genetic make-up will all factor in to make each and every individual unique.
The phrase that gets generated, time and time again, that when you’ve met one person with autism then you’ve met just ONE person with autism.
The disability will impair people in different ways and what works for one person may not work for another.
We should not try to change the individual but adapt the environment to enable them to flourish.
A label will not define an individual, it may just indicate some support strategies that could make them better understood and overcome barriers.
Our job, as a society, is to give the individual the tools to allow them to communicate in their own unique way.
The A Team starts with one letter but has a whole host of words connected to it.
Please share this blogpost and spread some #AutismAwareness so we can learn from each and every individual on the spectrum!