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15 Things to Remember When You Love Someone with Autism

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15 Things to Remember When You Love Someone with Autism

People with ASD (autism spectrum disorders) face enormous challenges. In many cases, autism flies under the radar. But if sufferers get the right kind of support and encouragement, it can make an enormous difference.

In the UK, about 1 in 100 people are liable to suffer from this incurable condition, while the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the USA estimates that 1 in 68 births may have this disease. Some experts say that as many as 66% of adults with autism are not getting adequate support.

If you have a family member suffering from autism—which also includes Asperger’s and other co-morbid conditions—here are 15 ways you can love them and support them.

1. Learn about autism

Look out for some of the early symptoms so that you can get a diagnosis and make sure your child is on the fast track for better treatment and support at home and at school. The earlier, the better.

Some babies seem abnormally focused on certain objects and do not make eye contact. Toddlers may develop normally, but around the age of three you may notice that they are paying no attention to the normal social signals. The main problems occur when they display a lack of social interaction skills and will not want to share toys and mingle with other kids. They become obsessed with repetitive movements or behaviour which is often referred to as “stimming.”

Severity of symptoms will vary widely and some kids may only be mildly affected. But early symptoms usually center on a language delay, or the ability to relate to others and behave in a flexible way. Once you start learning about the disorder, you will feel more empowered and better able to cope as the child grows up.

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A must-read novel is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, which provides a wonderful insight into the strange world of an autistic child who decides to become a detective!

2. Understand your child better

A key to great support will come from studying the child closely and realizing what makes them uncomfortable and badly behaved. Notice what makes them feel at ease and more co-operative. Listen to the sounds they make and notice their facial expressions especially when they are hungry, irritable, or tired.

3. Discover your child’s talents

We should keep in mind that 30% of these kids have an IQ which is in the normal range. About 10% of autistic children have rather special intellectual abilities and skills which are remarkable. This certainly makes up for their lack of social skills. Let me list a few for you:

  • Powerful memory skills
  • Musical talent
  • Artistic skills
  • Math skills
  • Honesty
  • Intense focusing skills

Check out this link for kids and teens with autism who displayed enormous talent.

Many children can read fluently, memorize large chunks of texts, do calendar calculation, and dismantle or assemble things. Help your child discover his or her niche by letting them explore their passions and interests.

If your child loves animals, get him to help out a local animal shelter.

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4. Help them overcome language difficulties

Autistic children may have problems with understanding idioms and metaphors, not to mention sarcasm and jokes. Time to simplify things by speaking clearly without using fancy metaphors.

Don’t tell a child that something is “a piece of cake.” Just say, “this is really easy.” Similarly, it is better to say you are “really busy” instead of “busy as a bee.”

5. Resist labelling your child

Everybody loves a label because it defines the problem and the boundaries. On the other hand, this can be negative because it classifies a person and this is too limiting. Full acceptance of what autism involves can help us to accept our children as they are. They will have quirks, oddities and limits. Accept the differences, celebrate little successes so that your child will gain self-esteem. Resist using ‘normal’ children as a yardstick for your child’s progress.

6. Break down instructions

Teachers of autistic children need to concentrate on the students’ strengths in concrete thinking and learning by heart. They can effectively use visual aids in helping students learn, gain self-esteem, and improve self-control.

Both parents and teachers need to break down instructions into individual units instead of giving too many in a short space of time.

7. Use more visuals

Using pictures and drawings in the home can often avoid problems and accidents. They are also an invaluable aid to bridging the communication gap between the child, parents, and teachers.

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The great thing about visuals is that they do not disappear, like words do, into thin air! They can help the child to put things in order so that they can learn a skill step by step. They are a great aid for rehearsing and practising, whether they are school tasks or household chores.

8. Use routines and schedules consistently

Children and adults suffering from autism thrive on well-established routines and schedules.

Having an organized schedule when meals, school, treatment and play time happen with unfailing regularity is a great help. It is advisable to keep interruptions or changes to a bare minimum, and as far as possible you should warn the child in advance. Kids tend to become fixated with one object or task and when this is removed, all hell can break loose.

9. Reach out for support

Find a local organization in your area which helps and supports families who are coping with autism. Sometimes they have a helpline and you will be able to exchange experiences and get advice from other people who are living with this condition.

10. Help with sensory issues

One of the things we learn about autism early on is how kids and adults can be hypersensitive to most sensory perceptions. This will include touch, light, smell and sounds. Researchers at UC San Francisco found that autistic children’s brains are wired differently, which partially accounts for their sensory perception issues. Basically, they have difficulty in processing all stimulation coming from the senses.

Attending shows or watching TV with its garish colors and loud crashing sounds can be traumatic for kids. This explains the success of The Lion King which was hailed as the first autism-friendly production in history!

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Common problems arise when kids scream uncontrollably if their faces get wet or they try to eat inedible things. One possible solution is to note what usually triggers these responses and make an effort to avoid them. It must be said that autistic kids are not always consistent in their reaction to certain stimuli.

11. Decide which treatment plan is best

No one size fits all when it comes to the best treatment. It is alarming to learn that there are over 400 treatments according to the WebMD site. Each treatment has to be tailor made for your child. It will certainly include a very predictable routine, your child’s interests, and activities which are highly structured. Teaching tasks are always step by step. In addition, there are features in place for rewarding positive behaviour and celebrating successes. Behavior therapy is the one treatment which has shown the most promise.

12. Get up to speed on your child’s rights

A child who suffers from autism or a similar disorder has certain rights at school and in society. The parents may be the only advocates they have so it is important to know what is available and how it can benefit your child. Again, your local support group will be able to help you out on this one. It will also depend on which country or state you live in. It is important that you know whether special education services or IEP is available in your state and you need to be actively involved in it. It will also help you deal with issues at home, and teamwork here can be of great assistance. You may have to insist on getting a second, independent opinion about your child’s diagnosis. You can also request an IEP meeting if you feel that your child’s needs are not being catered to.

13. Build in sensory breaks

Some repetitive actions and movements are a comfort to the autistic person. He or she will find solace in them and it is recommended that they have a sensory break every few hours. Individual needs will vary. But activities like rocking, spinning, rubbing something, or even wearing a weighted blanket can help. Getting exercise too is a great way to help with calming down. There is some excellent advice in the book by Martha Herbert, a researcher at Harvard, called The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be.

14. Helping teens and adults look for jobs

Employment prospects for people with autism can be a problem. There are encouraging signs that nonprofit organizations are leading the way in making employers more aware of the unique talents that autistic people can bring to the workplace. One of these is Specialisterne USA which was founded by Thorkil Sonne whose youngest son has autism. Their organization is hoping to create 100,000 jobs in the next year or so in the USA.

15. Brad’s story will encourage you

Brad suffers from autism and cannot speak. But from an early age, his father spotted his enormous talent for putting things together, like model aeroplanes and furniture. He now has his own furniture assembly business. Watch the video to learn how autism can lead to great opportunities and creativity.

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Let us know in the comments how you have supported a loved one with autism.

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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