This blog post is the 2nd in a three part series on Understanding Autism. Last month, we focused on helping parents consider how they can support their children’s development (for both neurotypical and neurodivergent kids) by using strategies and interventions for kids on the spectrum. This post addresses what it can feel like to live with Autism in a world that doesn’t flex for these traits.
Casey Remrov Vermeer is a young adult with Autism who wrote a book, “Connecting with the Autism Spectrum: How to talk to, how to listen to, and why you shouldn’t call it high functioning.” I love how unbelievably specific this book is. It overviews Autism as a developmental brain condition that causes bottom up thinking (details first) and associative/analytical/lateral thinking vs top down thinking (big picture concepts first) and vertical prioritized thinking. Casey Vermeer also describes how Autism impacts a person’s communication skills by limiting nonverbal skills and amplifying concrete thinking skills. Sensory issues can exist as well. All of these problems can result in odd or unusual behaviors and can cause conflicts at school, at work, and within social settings.
Yet, recent writing has also focused on how Autistic brains possess key strengths as well–sharpened memory, a strong curiosity, a good work ethic, a high value for respect, and a strong pull toward kindness and wanting to understand others. Certain work settings are beginning to capitalize on the benefits of how persons with Autism think and produce. Both Reber’s and Prizant’s books highlight how being differently wired and uniquely human through neurodivergence can offer undiscovered opportunities or unrealized perspectives —Yet, we have to open ourselves up to these possibilities and begin to flex into a more versatile world that meets persons with Autism better. So consider your most beloved quirky person, or your most endearing (albeit odd) personality trait, and apply some of Casey Vermeer’s tips to your lives.
Loving Those Quirky Traits
- Attention is not the same thing as focus.
- Show your work and get written instructions.
- Make note of processing needs and adjust–sound, pace,smells, etc
- Avoid or adapt group work (i.e organization, individual effort/interest, and communication needs).
- Sit in front, get and/or give clear short instructions.
- Don’t force eye contact–Try side by side “walk and talks.”
- Use earplugs, headphones or visual barriers to block distractions.
- Have a note taker or recording for meetings or group learning.
- Know that we don’t always learn by doing.
- Explain our mistakes, don’t just correct them.
- Be direct, be consistent.
- Don’t rely on nonverbal communication soley.
- Filter sarcasm, cliches and abstractions out of conversations.
- Please understand that we’re not rude, we’re not ignoring–Cue us directly for what you need from us.
- Say exactly what you mean.
- Don’t criticize us for being ourselves.
- Know that we can be kind, hard working, uber respectful, imaginative and curious.
Do you recognize anything obvious in these tips? Don’t these tips work well with most humans!!!???? We all do better when we have clear cues and specific requests for what is expected of us, right? Try these tips on your loved ones who don’t have Autism or neurodivergence. You will find that you have excellent results.
Then why is it so hard to implement or adapt systems that take these needs and accommodations into account? When we change our mindset about Autism we loosen our judgements about the behaviors and lose most of our resistance to make the necessary changes. If Autism is a result of behaviors that flow from differently wired brains and unique ways of being human, then we can easily see how these behaviors are not there to annoy us but to signal us about a specific need. So go ahead, treat those special persons that you love with care and consideration for their uniquely human traits, and use Vermeer’s tips for relating well to ALL HUMANS!