I am quite reluctant to list traits related to autism as every person with autism is an individual and presents differently. Having said that, when the first professional said my son had autism it was very overwhelming, a quick basic guide to autism is what I wanted so here goes.
The thing that helped me most was understanding that autistic people are effectively wired up differently to everyone else. Autistic people are neurologically different, they think differently and see the world differently. Evidence using MRI scans has shown that there are subtle structural differences in the make up of autistic people’s brains (Lange et al 2010).
Autism is not an illness and I personally don’t believe people should be looking to cure it, however it is recognised as a lifelong developmental disability. It has been proven that autism is not caused by MMR injections, upbringing or Peppa Pig. It is widely accepted that autism is a genetic condition that may have some environmental factors.
Autistic individuals are effected by four key areas:
- Social interaction
- Social communication
- Rigidity of thinking
- Sensory processing
Social difficulties and inappropriate behaviour is generally caused by a lack of understanding of social rules / norms. For most people social conventions are naturally absorbed and understood but for autistic individuals it is learnt behaviour not natural.
Some autistic individuals are non-verbal and others have exceptional language early on, most people with autism have some form of difficulty with language be it speech or comprehension. An autistic person may struggle with sarcasm and social communication like eye contact, body language and tone of voice. Rigidity of thinking can cause distress when a routine changes or expectations are not met.
Most autistic individuals have some form of sensory processing issues. Some will be hypersensitive to things like touch, sound, taste, light or smell, whilst others can be under-sensitive to the same things.
The neurodiversity movement has really helped me to see the value of autism and to recognise the importance of people who think differently. My son along with many autistic people has a great ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time.
If someone in your life is autistic get to know them personally. This is the best way to understand their needs. I have had to learn to have more patience (not a natural skill of mine). Also to listen and pay attention to really understand my son’s needs. It seems simple but it makes such a difference.
If you want to learn more please see my more detailed article on What is Autism?