First things first. I want to wish everyone of you a happy World Autism Awareness Day!
Autism affects between 1/100 to 1/88 individuals and yet those who are affected are still often misunderstood. Indeed, students with Autism are more likely to be bullied in school compared to any other ‘groups’ of students. Perhaps a reason for the high rates of bullying stems from people’s lack of understanding of the condition. Individuals with Autism experience difficulties in Social Interactions, Communication and Imagination/Flexibiity of Thought. It is also important to note that it is a lifelong disorder- a child with Autism will become an adult with autism. Furthermore, Autism manifests in many different ways. As Francesca Happe said recently, “once you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met ONE person with Autism”.
An individual with Autism’s difficulties in communication (in my experience) is the one that makes day-to-day activities challenging. For instance, a student with Autism might burst out crying in the middle of a lesson in school because he/she is tired or bored. In extreme instances, individuals with Autism may physically hurt another person just because they wore a different pair of shoes which unsettlled them. in other cases, people with ASC may not speak at all (either by choice or not). I know that these are extreme, bordering on ‘stereotypical’ and I acknowledge that not every single person with Autism will behave in these ways. These are just examples.
Whilst it is important to be aware that communication difficulties is a part of Autism, to me it is important to acknowledge that we too have a difficulty. They know what they want and don’t want. They know what they want to get across. They know what they feel. What they find challenging is finding a way to let us know what those thoughts and feelings are. Whilst they have a difficulty in producing the ‘right’ ways of communication, we struggle with understanding what they want to get across. Communication is a two-way process and since it is us (“neurotypicals”) who (ideally) have more capacity to be flexible and adaptable to situations, the responsibility to communicate effectively falls into our hands.
It is of paramount importance for us to actively search for ways of understanding those who have Autism that we regularly have contact with. As I’ve mentioned earlier, people with Autism are as unique as you and I. Communicating with one will almost definitely be diferent from another. We should take time to understand the patterns of their behaviour, know what triggers distress and observe body language. Our initial guesses may be wrong, but an active pursuit will go a long way.
More on Autism:
Autism in the classroom:
Inspiring People with Autism:
More on Savants: