Autism is something that affects the way a person’s brain works. Most people with autism have a hard time communicating with others, and some might have unusual behaviours because their brain is wired differently. People with autism also have many unique strengths and abilities.
If you or if one of your loved ones are Autistic, you may find that you need to explain the condition to other people so that they can understand what it means to be Autistic. Telling people that you have a developmental disability like Autism can be an especially difficult task. If I was tasked with explaining Autism to someone then I would say the following;
“Autism is a developmental disability that generally leads to differences in communication and social skills.”
Acceptance & Understanding
Every Autistic person is unique. We are an extremely diverse bunch of people and any two Autistic people could be very different from each other. One person might have severe sensory issues but have strong social skills, whilst another may have few sensory issues whilst struggling with basic social interaction. Not every Autistic person flaps their hands or stims in noticeable ways.
Communicating & Social Differences
In many cases, non-verbal communication gets in the way of daily adult interaction, since gestures and facial expressions can make up a large portion of social communication.
With Autistic people there are many communication differences. Some Autistic people find communicating with others to be very difficult. Some of these difficulties may be easy to spot, whilst others may be much subtler.
People with stronger social skills may simply seem awkward and a little clumsy. They may have difficulty understanding what is expected of them, so they may say or do things that are surprising to you. Some autistic people face large conversational challenges, and may not be able to carry a typical conversation.
When speaking with an Autistic person, you may find yourself wondering if they are really paying attention to you, or even care that you’re there. Keep in mind that some Autistic people seem “lost in their own world” when they are caught up in their own thoughts.
An Autistic person might listen differently. It’s normal for Autistic people to avoid direct eye contact and fidget whilst they pay attention. This helps them to focus. What looks like inattentiveness is actually them making modifications so they can listen and focus better.
Autistic people can often get overwhelmed in conversations, especially if the conversation is moving too fast. It sometimes helps if you move to a quieter place, and give pauses in the conversation to let the Autistic person think.
For me, making eye contact can make me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I find it distracts me from listening to the person who is talking to me. My strategy for overcoming this is to look at some place on that person’s face that is close to the eyes, but not directly into the eyes. This can be a person’s eyebrows or hairline. By implementing this I don’t come across as not listening and appearing rude and I can fully focus on the conversation because I don’t feel uncomfortable or distracted.
Structure & Routine
A lot of Autistic people enjoy highly structured routines for their day. This is because the certainty of a schedule makes us feels more comfortable. I have found that by setting up a daily and weekly planner it has helped me to have more of a focus and control over the things that I need to do each day/week. I know exactly what I’ve got to do at what time. Here is my weekly planner for this week. And if things change unexpectedly, I can look at a glance to see what I can move to where so that I keep some of my routine in place. (See Image Below)
Another strategy that I implement when dealing with an unfamiliar routine is to prepare myself ahead of time. Preparation can greatly reduce my anxiety in unfamiliar environments and helps me to know what to expect.