When it comes to Autism, the spectrum is wide and varied. To quote Dr. Shore, “if you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met ONE person with Autism.”
This quote means that not every person with Autism exhibits the same symptoms as another person with Autism or even has any noticeable symptoms at all.
However, one thing to keep in mind as you interact with those who are “neurodiverse” is to assume competence.
What does “assume competence” mean? This means that when you are interacting with a person with a disability, particularly an adult, assume that the person understands you and is mentally mature. Assume that a person with Autism can understand you and respond to you, even if they communicate with you in their own way.
Assume that they are competent unless it is made apparent that they need help or they ask you for help. One example would be to approach a person with Autism in the same friendly way that you would approach anyone else. To see an excellent example of this idea in practice, I’d encourage you to check out the YouTube Channel, Special Books for Special Kids.
Autism and Acceptance of Neurodiversity
If an individual tells you that they have Autism, one courteous thing to do would be to ask how it is that you can help them. What they may ask for will depend upon your relationship with the Autistic person.
The request, if any is made, will most likely be made in the form of an “accommodation.” This is especially important in a school setting as well as a job setting. If you are an employer, AutismSpeaks may be a good reference to explore accommodating your neurodiverse employees.
Accommodations are specific ways to help any person with a disability or difference. In schools, there should be entire departments assigned to help persons with differences and disabilities that can make changes to help a person with Autism succeed in the classroom.
However, if the person with Autism tells you they need help and they do not know that “accommodations” for them exist, it would be kind to ask them if they would like to see a school official or do the employment paperwork that is necessary to gain accommodations.
However, if you are a friend and want to connect with an Autistic person, please be aware that most persons with Autism want the same things you want. They want love, acceptance, and friendship. The only difference may be in how they are able to manifest their wants and needs.
A good tip for communicating with a person with non-verbal Autism is to ask them how they would prefer to communicate with you. Some non-verbal adults with Autism can speak with you via their communication device. You would simply speak with them and they would reply to you using their touchscreen talking device.
More information on this device can be found on Autism Speaks.
Some adults with Autism may prefer to respond to you or hold entire conversations in sign language. More information on sign language and Autism can be found on Car Autism Roadmap.
However, be aware that a person with Autism will communicate with you in the best way that they can. In many cases, you may not even notice that they have Autism as you hold a conversation. Just be sure to practice kindness and patience.
If you notice that they are becoming overwhelmed, you may ask them if they need a break. If they do, don’t take it personally. They just need some time to regroup and recharge after social interaction.
Take your time
It is extremely important to be patient. Just because someone does not act the way you do, it doesn’t mean it is wrong. You need to understand that some social interactions are new to them, and they act their best way they can.
If it is not what you are used to, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong – it is only another way to do things. Don’t try to change your autistic friend so that they meet your expectations of what ‘normal’ is, but rather be patient and accept them for who they are.
Being literal when you’re talking with your friend may be helpful. Sometimes persons with Autism have difficulties interpreting language. They may prefer you to be literal or, if necessary, explain what you’re actually saying after using either a euphemism or exaggeration.
This will mostly be in extreme cases, but ask your friend what they would prefer. When in doubt, asking is best. Some things that may be difficult for persons with Autism to understand in a common conversation are figures of speech, irony, and sarcasm.
Also, when asking something, remember to be patient and wait for the response instead of rushing them.
Take the initiative
If you want a stronger bond, make sure you are the one who takes the initiative. Adults with autistic disorders do want to have friends and be included, but most frequently, they do not know how to ask or be included in the plans. Asking for a movie night or just having lunch together will be a significant step.
People with autism are sometimes extremely sensitive to sensory elements, including touch, sounds, sights, and smells. Your friend may prefer a quiet restaurant or even eating takeout at home instead of a loud night out. They might find hugs or shaking hands uncomfortable.
However, there is a wide spectrum of sensory sensitivity. Some persons love to be in a loud atmosphere and thrive on sensory input. Others prefer quiet and not being touched. Communication with your friends about how they would be most comfortable is key.
Some Common Things to Avoid Asking
Many people make the mistake of thinking “Autism” is like the character in the movie, “Rainman.” But honestly, Autistic people are tired of being asked, “What’s your special talent?” Just take it from Professional Autism speaker, Kerry Magro. He has Autism and is an active Autism advocate.
Please take a minute to review his list of things not to say to someone with Autism.
As you make friends and connections in our diverse world, just remember to practice kindness, acceptance, and understanding.