Recently I have been doing some training sessions with parents and organisations new to autism. Whilst I already have posts explaining ‘what is autism’ I wanted to highlight a few things about autism and neurodiversity, including 7 ways to be autism friendly.
When a parent has little knowledge about autism and their child is waiting for a social communication or autism assessment they are naturally looking for information about autistic traits. They want to know if the description of autism fits their child. I was this parent a few years ago and it’s understandable but this is where we can easily get lost in the detail. So today I want to go back to basics and highlight what you need to understand about autism and neurodiversity in general.
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is essentially a different brain type! We know that we are all different. We have different eye colours, skin types, hair colours, we are different heights and so on. Some of these differences are easy to see but others are not. I can’t tell from looking at you if you like tea or coffee and equally I can’t tell from looking at you what type of brain you have.
Yes there are different types of brain! The majority of people are neurotypical (not neurodiverse). Those people who think differently have a neurodiverse brain. Neurodiverse brain types include people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.
Sadly many of us find it hard to understand and / or accept the things we can’t see. This is one of the biggest challenges facing the neurodiversity community.
Autism is really common, the National Autistic Society has the number at 1 in 100. The US use the figure 1 in 59. Personally I think with the level of undiagnosed people out there it is more likely closer to 1 in 10 but that’s just my opinion.
Autism is essentially a different neurotype. A brain that is wired up differently that sees and interacts with the world differently.
Different Not Less
A good way of explaining these differences is to think about different operating systems. Apple and Android phones both do the same thing but they do it differently. Whilst you may have a preference for one operating system over the other this doesn’t mean it is better at doing the job than the other, it is just different. Also if you try to put an X Box game into a Playstation it won’t work, it isn’t broken, it just isn’t built to work with that operating system. Our society, especially the school system, is built with the neurotypical brain type in mind not the neurodiverse brain so sometimes it doesn’t work for those individuals.
Sadly we tend to not be very accepting of differences and society will knock people who are different over and over again. This is why supporting our children’s self esteem is massive.
A Higher Intensity
When we talk about autistic traits you get comments like ‘my son does that, it’s normal’ or ‘everyone is on the spectrum’. The reason for this is every trait I could list as autistic is a human trait that most people will experience at some time. The difference is an autistic individual will experience it on a much higher intensity impacting their daily life. It is different!
Most autistics will struggle with social interaction and communication in some way. They will also usually have sensory processing differences. Becoming sensory aware and understanding that people experience the world differently is really important.
7 ways to be Autism Friendly
It really is quite easy to be autism or neurodiverse friendly.
- Be Patient – give people a minute. Some people need more time to process language or make choices. Give them the time they need.
- Ask – everyone has opinions that matter so ask and listen to what they have to say.
- Communicate clearly – don’t use subtle hints or vague language. Say what you mean.
- Be sensory aware – learn about sensory differences and accept that your senses will interact with the world differently.
- Use visuals – visuals are helpful for anyone whether it is writing down information or using picture aids.
- Be inclusive – don’t assume what someone wants or what ability they have.
- Be Kind – all behaviour is for a reason. It is also very easy to misunderstand or misinterpret a situation.