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A Professional’s Guide to Talking About Autism

Talking about Autism in  professional contexts should be done with utmost sensitivity and respect towards the individuals with the condition and their families. Having sat through assessments, consultations, education and health care meetings, annual reviews and planning meetings with familes and professionals, I have learned lessons of what to do and what not to do when it comes to talking about the said subject. I am aiming, through this article, to share with you what I have learned over the years.

1. It’s not an epidemic and no one is ‘suffering’ from Autism

Despite what the figures suggest, I do not consider Autism as an epidemic – it has been around for longer than we all think and we just got better at identifying it.

I would try to avoid using any negative terms at all when talking about Autism. Someone HAS Autism, but he/ she is not suffering. I prefer to call Autism as a condition, not a disorder or a disease.

Please note that I do not want you all to turn a blind eye on the difficulties that the individuals and their families are having at any point. Absolutely not! I urge you to acknowledge that. What I want you all to understand is that whatever it is that is happening now can be changed. Focus on what can be done (realistically) to make their situations better.

2. Individuals with Autism; not Autistic individuals

The jury is still out with this one – some actually want to be identified as ‘autistic’, as it is a major part of their identities, while some would like to be referred to as (for example) ‘a girl with Autism’. I always use the latter one, unless corrected by the individual or the family. I feel that by referring to them as ‘individuals with Autism’, I am acknowledging that there is more to them than having a diagnosis – that Autism is only a part of who they are. By doing so, I believe that I am opening up the opportunity for others to truly discover who the person really is as a whole.

3. Avoid using ‘High/Low Functioning’ and ‘severely/mildly Autistic’

I myself am guilty of this until recently. First of all, I know that levels of functioning depends (in a large part) on the individual’s IQ score. However, I began to understand that IQ is only a part of who they truly are.

I understand that levels of functioning may give professionals and parents a common language/ reference point to which they can base an individual’s set of abilities. But I feel like this should be avoided as it is misleading. I have met many people with Autism who have overall IQs of less than 70 but are amazing in specific things. One may be ‘low functioning’ but it does not mean that they cannot (or are not) good at something.

What I find helpful is to look at the overall picture. Try to understand every context, every behaviour, every aspect of the individual’s life. Then, if you need to talk to the individuals with Autism and/ or his/ their families, you should pinpoint the areas in which they have strengths and the areas in which they need to improve. Not only will you be able to offer a much better informed solution (if that’s what’s needed), you may also make the families feel that they were listened to.


As professionals, most of us are eager to offer advice. But having spoken to a lot of families over the years, what they appreciate is being listened to – genuinely and empathically. I advise you to take a step back and listen to what they are saying before speaking or making your mind. Clarify what you heard and don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure that you truly understood what they meant.

5. No two individuals with Autism are the same

I know that you all may have read/ heard this before, but I want you to always keep this in mind. No matter how many people with Autism you have met, the next one would be completely different from the others. Never assume that you already know what to do. I suppose if you want to stay true to this advise, you would follow number 4.

Final comments

All of what I have said may not be a unique revelation to many of you. However, I feel like I owe it to the Autism community to remind you (and myself) of all of them. I know that we all want the best for the people we work with, which is why I am confident that the Autism community is in safe hands.

Please feel free to contact me and/ or leave comments if you wish to discuss anything further.



Why Like a post on Facebook and/ or Favourite a Tweet?




Like a lot of people in the world nowadays, I have been hooked on Facebook and Twitter for many years. I can catch up on the news on these sites much quicker than on the radio, newspapers and TV, and I can do it on the fly. Social Networking Sites (SNS) have given us a platform for communicating with one another, keeping tabs on celebrities, sports and current events, whilst allowing us to voice our opinions about anything and everything. Facebook also allows us to post a ‘status’- a group of words that may describe what we are doing (have done or will do), what our moods are like, what we are eating, and basically anything that we want to write. Facebook also allows us to post pictures, inform our ‘friends’ about our current location and ‘tag’ people who are with us or wish that are with us at any particular time. Twitter functions in a similar way, in which it allows us to connect with people, ‘tweet’ a picture and/ or a statement (limited to 180 characters) much like a Facebook status. Both Facebook and Twitter allow us to share (or Retweet on Twitter) anything that another person has posted. We can also ‘reply’ or ‘comment’ on their statuses and/ or tweets if we like, and start a discussion about any topics.

What grabbed my curiousity though is the ‘Like’ button in Facebook and the ‘Favourite’ button on Twitter. One may assume that this is to alert the person that posted a Tweet/photo/status/location/etc. that you ‘like’ their post or their tweets are one of your ‘favourites’. But is that all there is to it? Why else would such functions exist? Let me take a few guesses.

  1. To Save Time– I often ask myself, ‘Why can’t we just reply or comment that we ‘like’ what they have posted?’ Facebook and Twitter might have assumed that we are all incredibly busy and that we don’t have any time to type that clicking on a button should be enough. In addition, SNS bosses might have assumed that we don’t have time to read people’s comments about how much they liked our posts, and therefore notifications of how many ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ our posts have should be enough.
  2. It Feels Good to be Liked– The words ‘like’ and ‘favourite’ are positive words that denote approval from other people. Knowing that somebody ‘liked’ or ‘favourited’ your post shows that people not only took notice of your post and read it, but they also took a few seconds of their precious time to click a button (they must really approve of what you posted, right?).
  3. Popularity– Having so many people ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ your post could mean that you are gaining popularity. However, arriving at this conclusion may lead to disappointment as it is not always the case.

I am still puzzled everytime somebody ‘likes’ or ‘favourites’ my posts on Facebook or Twitter mainly because there are many different reasons why people click these buttons. Although I must admit that I do not ponder on every single ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ that I receive, but whenever I post something that is very close to my heart (for instance, Autism, Special Education and Psychology), I querry on the reason why a person clicked ‘like’ or ‘favourite’. On the flip-side, I am also careful whenever I click these buttons as I don’t want to send the wrong signal.

I urge you to think carefully before clicking ‘like’ and ‘favourite’. Here’s why :

  1. Ambiguity – As I’ve said, the act of clicking these buttons mean differently to people. They may truly agree with what you have said, they might have ‘favourited’ your tweet to remind them that they need to come back and read it later, or they may simply have ‘liked’ or ‘favourited’ your post to politely say that ‘I have seen your post, but I don’t really like it‘.
  2. A ‘like’/ ‘favourite’ is not the same as approval- I know that this goes against the definitions of the words (and against number 3 on this list) but as mentioned, they mean differently to people.
  3. It does not improve the integrity of your statement- Having a popular oppinion does not mean that what you have said/ done is right. However, some people may hold this idea and therefore, we should be careful before we ‘like’ or ‘favourite’ a stupid/ offensive post.
  4. Your name will be associated with the post– This is probably the most important thing to consider before pressing these buttons. Whether you are ‘liking’ or ‘favouriting’ a joke, a political/ philosophical statement,  an expression of emotion or anything at all, be aware that your name will be associated with it and everyone will see it. We all know a news story or two about people who have lost their jobs and/ or loved ones because of SNS activities. ‘Liking’ or ‘Favouriting’ something may not be the same as actually posting it, but it shows that you approve of the post.





Autism Hangout: Autism and Friendship

On the latest episode of the Autism Hangout, I, along with other panel members, discussed the intricacies of initiating, forming and maintaining friendships in individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC). We explored how people with ASC communicate with and relate to their friends. We also gathered insights from people with the condition on how they form and maintain friendships. We gave advice for individuals with Autism on what to do and where to go if they have any questions about friendships, other people and general social encounters.


Helpful Tips on How to Get to Know Your Students



Getting to know your students is one of the most effective ways to create a harmonious classroom environment. Teachers and teaching assistants alike know how different each child is from his or her peers. Similar to adults, they all have their own set of attitudes, beliefs, biases, likes, dislikes and coping mechanisms. Knowing all of these can be the difference in developing a fun, yet respectful atmosphere in the classroom. For instance, if you know that a particular student dislikes being praised publicly, you can give praise subtly either through writing a note in his book or speaking to him/ her one to one.

Getting to know students in an individual level can be challenging especially if you have a huge class. But, however large your class is, there is always a way to get to know them. You just have to be willing. Here are some ways that I have found useful over the years:

  1. Ask pupils about their weekends every Monday morning: Find 5 to 10 minutes on a Monday morning to ask what your students did on the weekend. This is a relatively simple task that can reap such huge rewards. They may tell you that they have watched a sports game or a movie, and who they watched it with. From this conversation, you would know what sport they love and which player/ team they follow. Such wealth of information can be used as ice-breakers when they become unresponsive in lessons. For example, if a child who supports Chelsea and love Fernando Torres struggles with addition, you can give hypothetical examples such as ‘Torres scored 1 goal against Arsenal and 2 against Liverpool. How many goals has he scored altogether in those two games?” 
  2. Join in on their games in the playground: Being able to join in on the kids’ games in the playground can make them feel comfortable around you. By playing their games, you are showing that you are also capable of following their rules, as they follow yours in the class. It shows them that a person can both be respected and be fun to be with.
  3. Crack some jokes once in a while: Similar to the previous tip, this one shows that you can be fun. Most teachers fear that once they crack jokes, students will not take them seriously. But my experience suggest otherwise. Having shared a joke or two with my students (particularly when I worked with teenagers), I began to be accepted even more. One student commented that I became the person they approached the most because I can relate to them.
  4. Find out what music, TV programme, sports, etc. they like and familiarise yourself with them: As a person from a different generation, they may think we are out of touch with the current trend. Surprise your students by knowing more about their favourite artists, films, etc.
  5. Listen actively to your students: Use body language effectively. Allow your students to finish what they are saying and concentrate on their points of view. Make sure that you clarify anything that you do not understand.
  6. Use a ‘Free Expression Box’: There would be more than one student in any given class who prefer not to say anything due to anxiety. Make sure you have a box (call it whatever you like) in the classroom in which the students are allowed to put notes in. These notes may contain their thoughts about you, their peers, the school or their family. Be very clear about the rules for confidentiality and disclosure, though.
  7. Use these positive words and phrases:20130708-124901.jpg
  8. Ask them for feedback: Do not be afraid to ask them how they felt about your lesson or activity. Ask them what they enjoyed and what you could improve next time. One may fear that this gives complete control of your class to the students, but I disagree as this promotes harmonious and inclusive atmosphere in your classroom. It makes your students feel that you consider their thoughts and opinions.
  9. Use Golden Time and Free Play times to speak to your students: Spare 5 to 10 minutes of your marking/ planning time to speak to kids during relaxed/ unstructured times such as free play and golden time. Ask them about their day/week, how their pets are, or anything that they are interested in.
  10. Let your students know you: Communication and relationships are a two-way street. Let your students know a bit about you. Tell them what music/sports/TV programme, etc. you like. Just like you, they will find some similarities between you that would build a foundation to a stronger bond between you.

Bully Project: Emotional Documentary on the Effects of Bullying

Most of us who have been to school or have worked with people have experience and/or witnessed bullying. It is an unpleasant experience. But still, after all the interventions (e.g. Olweus Programme), bullying is still present and it is still terrorizing kids, adults and families all over the world.

What can be done? How can bullying be reduced or eliminated? In my opinion, everyone- from students to patents to teachers up to the government, should actively educate each other on the negative effects of bullying. Since quite a lot of bullying cases stem from bullies’ ignorance of Special Needs and/ or people’s difference, they need to be made aware of this.

The documentary below shows just how devastating the effects of bullying are by featuring accounts of the major key stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, community members).


An Eye-Opening Documentary About The Different Ways of Torturing Humans For Information

The documentary below exposes the many different ways in which interrogators tortured fellow human beings for information. It shows the history behind physical (electrocution, sex, etc.) and psychological ways of torture. What is interesting to me is how twisted the minds of the interrogators are. They really believed that what they were doing was right and should be done.


How Social Networking Sites helped a girl with Autism ‘come out of her shell’: Carly Fleischmann’s story

Carly Fleischmann is a young woman with Autism and is unable to communicate verbally. When introduced to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter however, Carly began to develop more friendships, communicate with more people and feel more like she is a part of society (her own words- watch the video below).

More and more people with conditions that limit their ability to communicate face to face are turning into Social Networks and online blogs. On the internet, very few social skills are needed. For instance, we do not need to look people in the eye or read their facial expressions- two of the social skills which are most commonly lacking in people with Autism. In Carly’s case, social interactions are further limited by her inability to speak. Through the medium of the internet however, all of these barriers are eliminated. Now, she is actively blogging and in the process, helping people become aware of Autism and thus inspiring others who have the same situation as she was.

For more information about Carly Fleischmann, click these links:

Carly’s Voice

Carly’s Facebook page

Carly’s Twitter page


More on Autism:

Vote for Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman

What does Autism mean?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica-Jane Applegate (British Paralympian)

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Study shows People with Autism Can Spot Inappropriate Behaviour But Find it Difficult to Verbally Explain them

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Carter et al. (20120) aimed to find out the difference between the cognitive processes used by children with Autism when making decisions in social situations against those used by ‘Typically Developing (TD) children. Twenty five children (12 with Autism; 13 TD) were shown 32 pictures. In 16 of those, the children were asked to identify whether or not the target person (blonde-haired boy) was doing a bad thing, whilst on the other 16 pictures, the children were asked whether the activity took place outdoors.

Carter et al.’s (2012) findings showed no signficant differences in both groups’ performance on the task. However, the fMRI scans revealed that the social and language brain regions of the children with Autism’s brains showed very little activation in comparison to those of the TD children. The researchers proposed that these findings could indicate that despite the ability of the children with ASD to correctly identify the inappropriate behaviour, they find it difficult to verbally explain why such behaviours are inappropriate.


Carter, E.J., Williams, D.L., Minshew, N.J., & Lehman, J.F. (2012). Is He Being Bad? Social and Language Brain Networks during Social Judgment in Children with AutismPLoS ONE,; 7 (10): e47241 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0047241

More on Autism:

What does Autism mean?

What is PDD-NOS?

Communication difficulties in Autism

Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster Boy?

Still unsure if Sheldon has Asperger’s?

The Autistic Me: A BBC Documentary

BBC4’s Growing Children: Autism

Study Shows People with Autism Can Spot Inappropriate Behaviour but ffind it difficult to Verbally Explain Them

Autism in the classroom:

Guide to parents of students with ASD on coping with the first day back to school

Common signs of Autism in the classroom

First day back to school: Top tips for parents of children with Autism

Practical tips to make your classroom Autism-Friendly

Inspiring People with Autism:

Dr. Temple Grandin

Jessica Jane Applegate

Satoshi Tajiri (Pokemon creator)

Carly Fleischmann

Inspiring Artists With Autism

More on Savants:

The Psychology of Savants: Memory Masters

The Einstein Effect: Is there a link between having Autism and being a genius?

Jane Elliot’s A Classroom Divided: A classic lesson in prejudice

This is an old documentary about Jane Elliot’s thought-provoking exercise. In 1968, she divided a class of third-graders into two groups- blue-eyed and brown-eyed and told the children that blue-eyed people are better than brown-eyed ones. Watch what happened:



What do you think about this? What can we learn from this?

Please drop me some lines on the comment box below.