In the desire to raise awareness about autism, it’s important to understand more about it. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to communicate, learn, and socially interact. According to the CDC, one child in 59 has been diagnosed with autism. Symptoms of autism start in the early years of childhood and can last throughout adulthood.
The symptoms and effects of autism vary from person to person. While some individuals are considered high functioning to the point that one can hardly tell they have challenges, others require considerable support to function in day-to-day tasks. It can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a person with autism and truly understand what life is like for them, however trying to understand the world from their perspective can help us understand them better.
For a person with autism, emotions are perceived and communicated differently. Autistic individuals cannot always understand expression. If a person is sad, they may not realize it through body language. They may not realize when they have hurt someone’s feelings or when they’ve done something that makes someone uncomfortable. The social cues that most people pick up on and respond to are often lacking with a person who has autism.
A person with autism can be mistaken for being rude when they are simply being brutally blunt and honest. They will say just what they are feeling or thinking. This direct nature of communicating can sometimes be seen as insensitive or even offensive. Yet, that is not the intent.
Making eye contact can be difficult. Looking at someone in the eye is a common way that people show interest while speaking with each other. Yet for a person with autism, looking someone in the eye can take a lot of effort and focus, making it hard for them to focus on what is being said. It’s usually easier for them to listen while they are looking away.
One key symptom for a person with autism to deal with is all the various sensory inputs that they experience in their daily environment. This can give them a lot of stress and anxiety. They may develop ways to cope that seem unusual like rocking back and forth, making unusual gestures or flapping their hands.
Noises and bright lights can be a challenge for them. While most of us may walk through a grocery store without much else on our mind except our grocery list, a person with autism can be be hypersensitive to everything going on around them. The bright light in the store might seem like blinding headlights and the noise of the shopping carts and people bustling around as well as any store announcements over the loudspeaker can be so loud and overwhelming.
An autistic individual may also be hypersensitive to smell, taste, and touch. What would seem like not a big deal to us, may be very overwhelming and nearly unbearable to a person with autism. A normal pat on the back or hug from a loved one may be intended to give comfort, but for a person with autism having sensory issues to touch, it can be quite an unpleasant experience.
It’s nice sometimes to switch things up and do something different. But for an individual with autism having a consistent routine is what brings a sense of security. If there is a change in routine or activity, it can trigger a meltdown in someone with autism. This is because an unexpected sudden change can cause a person with autism to experience panic and a feeling of loss of control. If there does need to be a change, it is best to make it well in advance and communicate it very clear and precisely so that when it happens, the person with autism can feel calm and comfortable. Knowing about a change of routine well in advance can help deter feelings of panic.
For a person with autism, relating to other people can be hard. They may try to act like most people do to blend in, but they may not understand behaviors since their perspective and experience is very different than most. An autistic person doesn’t pick up on sarcasm because they take things much more literally. They cannot always read body language which would indicate that someone is joking.
Sometimes the facial expressions of a person with autism don’t reflect what they are actually feeling or may be viewed as less natural. They still experience emotion and feelings, but it can be unusual or overly intense due to their personal experience of the environment. It’s best to give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them with respect and compassion no matter what their expression is.
It is common for people with autism to become very fixated on one thing and at that moment, nothing else matters. It might be something like lining up their pencils in a row by size, ensuring the towels are folded a specific way, or counting each particle of food before eating. This behavior is a way they can find order in their lives that otherwise may feel very disorderly.
In conclusion, here is a video that shows what it’s like for many people with autism to deal with the sensory overload of all the sounds and happenings around them. It gives us a glimpse into what it might be like to endure everyday situations for a person with autism. This video was made by the Interacting with Autism Project.