As humans, many of us live in our own little world. So, it’s completely normal that what might make sense to us doesn’t always make sense to others. It’s also very hard and sometimes uncomfortable to take ourselves out of that world we’ve grown accustomed to. As someone who has lived with autism my whole life, I can attest to the fact that many people don’t understand what it means to be on the spectrum.
Autism awareness: What people need to understand
Having a kid with autism is not the end of the world. Here’s the thing about autism: No one with autism is the same. Just like everyone on earth, no two are alike. So if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Each individual with autism has their own quirks and own way of dealing with their situation.
If someone is diagnosed with autism, it doesn’t change a single thing about them. They are still the same person, and we all have our own strengths, weaknesses, and individual traits. A diagnosis might just help them understand why they think the way they do.
You can’t see autism. It’s important to remember that you also can’t see autism. When you are autistic, people look at you and think, “I don’t see anything wrong with you.” It’s hard to have a disability that no one can see, like a broken leg. People might make assumptions about you that aren’t true.
Try not to judge anyone, whether you suspect they have autism or not. It’s important to get to know people and not jump to conclusions.
Autistic kids take things very literally. For example, in elementary school, when my teachers told me I couldn’t leave if I didn’t finish my work, I thought I would have to stay there late into the night. It terrified me.
Choose your words carefully when talking to an autistic child or any kid: They might take what you say too seriously.
Do not yell at or raise your voice with an autistic child. Rather than getting our attention, it will shut us down. If you raise your voice, we won’t respond favorably. Most of us have a hard time identifying emotions in others and interpret loud voices as anger.
Instead, talk to us slowly and clearly, but not like you would talk to a 3-year-old. We might process information differently, but we are quite intelligent.
People with autism will have breakdowns from time to time. And they shouldn’t feel bad about it. Sometimes it’s the only way to express that we have reached our breaking point. I finally started to get real help after my first real freak-out.
Please don’t shame someone for breaking down. Those of us with autism are already our own worst critics. We don’t need you to make us feel worse about ourselves.
Autism can be an advantage. Sure, there are situations where autism is a disadvantage, but it can be the opposite. People with autism tend to focus their attention and energy into one thing. For me, those things are my art and whatever TV show or movie I’m obsessed with at the time. When it comes to autistic people and our passions, we are dedicated, determined and hard working.
Don’t try to take an autistic person away from their passion. It’s a losing battle, and why would you even want to? My parents nurtured my talent for art, and now I’m a published author and illustrator.
It’s important to accept everyone
At the end of the day, we are all unique humans interacting with each other. There will always be people that you click with and those that you just don’t get along with. One thing that has always annoyed me is how autistic people are taught how to act like “normal human beings” while the neurotypical aren’t taught how to interact with us — or to act nicely with anyone at all. What if we all just tried harder to be ourselves and to be good people?
I remember how hard it was to talk to my parents about my problems because I didn’t want to worry them. Looking back, it’s funny to me how I was so scared of upsetting others while I was falling apart inside. I know how hard it is to say how you’re feeling and to say it in a way that gets your point across.
With that said, I’d like to leave you with a couple inspiring quotes I enjoy that put things in perspective:
“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.” – Temple Grandin, “The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger’s”
“And now I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are just not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs.” – John Elder Robison
About the author
Alexandra Adlawan is a writer and illustrator from Long Beach, California, and creator of the Amazing Artists publishing company. A naturally gifted visual arts and written word communicator in reaching children, Alexandra enhanced her skill set by graduating from a professional digital arts and animation studio for artists with autism. Alexandra’s children’s book series includes “The Adventures of Maddie and Albert,” “Wild Imagination,” “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” “Flying the Imaginary Skies” and the forthcoming “Backyard Jungle.”
More on autism awareness in Seattle’s Child:
What not to say to the parent of a child on the autism spectrum (Lynn Dixon, June 2017)