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20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You

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20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You

Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive developmental disorder (ICD 10, DSM-IV) that occurs on a spectrum and thankfully is no longer considered a psychosis. Persons diagnosed with ASD are commonly accepted as presenting with a triad of impairment. These impairments usually include; 1) social skills deficits which mean that forming friendships is a frequent difficulty, 2) language and communication difficulties which often mean that the person will have trouble understanding and retaining information provided in the verbal format and will struggle with subtleties of language such as sarcasm or inuendo, and 3) difficulties with flexible thinking which often means that a person with ASD has difficulty taking different perspectives, empathy, and any sudden changes to routines. Persons with ASD will often find comfort in repetitive routines which others cannot understand or may find unusual. Persons with ASD also regularly have difficulties with motor coordination and may have difficulties processing incoming sensory information. This list of difficulties is by no means exhaustive. There are many other daily struggles for a person presenting anywhere on the Autistic spectrum. But whether you are into brain training for children, are a parent or a teacher of a child with ASD, or are a certified Applied Behavior Analyst, here is a list of things that I think a child with Autism wants you to know.

1. We struggle to make friends

This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to have friends, but we have varying degrees of success depending on how we seek people out. In Lorna Wing’s classic book, The Autistic Spectrum, she identifies four types of social interaction impairments faced by persons with the condition. These included the aloof type (who often behave as though other people simply don’t exist), the passive type (who accept social approaches but do not initiate them), the active-but-odd type (this group will often actively seek out social contact but often will do so in a peculiar, one-sided fashion, or can go on about their own interests only without realizing that others may not share those interests), and, finally, the overly formal or stilted type (who try very hard to behave well and rigidly adhere to all rules and conventions). So, whichever category your autistic person falls into, struggling socially tends to be part of their condition.

2. We struggle to communicate, but this does not mean we are not trying to be heard

In 1943, when Leo Kanner first started talking about ‘early infantile autism’, this was one of the things that he reported. A person with autism may or may not have difficulty with their grammar or vocabulary, but most of them will struggle in the manner in which they use language. Many children with autism never learn to speak. However, many others do learn to speak and can speak quite well, but may learn much later than their same-age peers. Please do not confuse a difficulty communicating with not wanting to be heard. A person with Autism may try very hard to have their needs met or their feelings understood, but it can be very difficult to effectively get your point across when your expressive language skills are limited or your manner of communicating is not the same as those around you.

3. We have difficulties understanding the spoken words of other people

People with autism have extremely varied abilities to understand language. Lorna Wing reports that most do have some understanding, but this often does not include things like jokes or the finer nuances of language. Many take a literal interpretation of language that can make things like sarcasm and analogy quite confusing. However, many persons with autism, with practice, can make great gains in these areas, even though it may not ever come as naturally to them as it does their to their peers. We also have trouble understanding and using non-verbal communication. Sign language may not be enough if our spoken language is not well developed, because we often have equal difficulties understanding facial expressions, body language, and any range of gestures that usually coincide with the spoken word.

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4. We sometimes use a different intonation than other people

In fact, sometimes we use a different accent from our families and communities completely. Sometimes our voices sound robotic or mechanical. This is not atypical for someone with autism, even though it might sound unusual to other people.

5. Imagination and pretend games are not fun for us

We like repetition and routine, not spontaneity and surprises. So, what seems like great fun for a person without Autism may actually be very upsetting for someone on the Autistic spectrum.

6. We love simple, repetitive activities, but we may graduate to more elaborate, repetitive routines as we get older

In 1973, Kanner described how some autistic children would invent routines for themselves such as tapping on a chair before sitting down or standing up and sitting down three times before eating a meal. He went on to describe how other children might require each member of the family to always sit in the exact same place at the dinner table or insist that a morning walk should always take exactly the same route. This is all part-and-parcel of how persons with ASD find comfort in sameness and are fearful of changes, but it can seem quite unusual to an outsider looking in. In fact, sometimes in our need for sameness, we might cling to an object that others simply cannot see the value of. Indeed, some of these objects may become our most preferred items.

7. Many of us like Thomas the Tank Engine

Some experts have speculated that this is because of the mechanical and repetitive characteristics of the characters in the show, but nobody really knows exactly why there is such a draw to Thomas the Tank Engine. Of course, there are many other shows and television characters that people with autism enjoy, but they often tend to be programs where there is a significant amount of repetition by the actors in a certain sequence.

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8. We often engage in stereotyped movements

In plain English, this means that we might do things like repetitively flick our fingers, flap our arms and hands, jump up and down, roll our heads around, or rock while standing up. It is not known why autistic people perform stereotyped movements, but there seems to be an escalation of these movements when the person is excited or when they are trying to seek sensory input. Typically-developing babies and toddlers will engage in a lot of these movements too, but with increasing age and self control, many of these physical behaviors cease or greatly decrease. However, they may not cease in people with ASD. In fact, a person with ASD can become very distressed if forced to suppress these movements. If you want to help a person with ASD when they are in distress, please be aware that they may need this type of sensory stimulation, and indeed it might be very calming for them to engage in it.

9. Some of us can be very clumsy, and we might have unusual gaits and posture

When Dr. Hans Asperger originally described the syndrome as he saw it in 1944, he noted that many of these children had underdeveloped motor coordination skills, handwriting, and time management. This is still true today, but not every person with ASD has awkward or underdeveloped fine or gross motor skills. Indeed, there are many persons, particularly those that are on the higher-functioning end of the Autistic spectrum, that can be very skilled athletes.

10. We have great difficulty imitating other people’s facial expressions, and yet we often imitate other people’s actions or echo their words

The technical terms for these behaviors are echopraxia and echolalia (Wing, 1996). It is often seen as paradoxical that it is so common for an autistic person to echo another person’s words and actions in what seems to be a meaningless fashion, when it is so essential to social development to meaningfully imitate things like two-way conversations, facial expressions, and eye contact.

11. We may ignore or seem not to hear loud noises, yet we might be extremely sensitive to sounds that other people barely notice

This is another paradox of the autistic spectrum. It was first noted by Itard in 1801 in Victor, The Wild Boy of Aveyron. Itard noted that Victor never responded at all to the loudest of noises like the explosion of firearms, yet never failed to respond to the sound of a walnut being cracked open or any other “eatable” which he enjoyed. Other children with autism can become extremely distressed by certain sounds and noises, but this will often fade with increased age.

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12. We can have seemingly contradictory responses to visual stimuli

For example, we may be fascinated by bright lights, but very distressed by flash photography. We also may not always look at a whole item or person, preferring instead to focus on an outline of a person or what others might consider some arbitrary physical features of an object (e.g., the leg of a chair rather than the whole chair). It has been suggested that the autistic child may make more use of the peripheral part of the retina which focuses on outline and movement, rather than central vision, for details. This part of the retina is mainly used by others in near-dark conditions. It is interesting to note that many autistic children can find their way perfectly well in the dark and may not always turn a light on. This, too, tends to fade with age.

13. Certain textures, tastes, and smells that are barely noticeable to others can be very offensive and distressing to us

While we might not be able to handle certain fabrics of clothing, we might not notice when something is too hot or too cold. We may not even notice if we have been badly hurt or injured. This seems unusual to non-ASD people, but it is seen regularly in someone with ASD. It seems that, like with all of our other senses, we just don’t seem to interpret incoming stimuli the same way that other people do.

14. Many of us prefer the same narrow range of foods again and again

This may be related to our need for uniformity, but some have speculated that we don’t always recognize the sensation of hunger. However, many of us drink liquids excessively and our thirst cannot seem to be quenched. One piece of good news here is that when we are engaged in other activities, we can forget about this sometimes constant thirst.

15. Many of us have high levels of anxiety and fear, but this is not necessarily because we are autistic

Much of this anxiety and fear comes simply from the fact that a situation has arisen that we do not understand or did not expect. If you were in our shoes, you might be scared too.

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16. Learning difficulties are common for those presenting with ASD

That being said, about 10% of autistic children have very strong skill sets, even compared with typically-developing, same-age peers. This can sometimes come about because we practice a task in such a repetitive manner that we can become much more skilled than others. We also tend to obsess about small details in our special area that other people may not take the time to notice. This can really be to our advantage in developing a specialized skill set and can set us apart in a very positive way.

17. We don’t always act the way you think we should

In fact, very often, because we struggle with language and communication, we might do things that other people think are downright strange. We might think nothing of stroking the hair of a stranger on the bus or taking off our clothes for a dip in a neighbor’s swimming pool. We might also say things that will make others very uncomfortable, like commenting on your friend’s weight gain or the bus driver’s bald patch. Furthermore, it is difficult for an autistic person to tell a lie. We describe the world as we see it, without sugar-coating or rose-colored glasses.

18. The most capable of us may go on to lead completely normal lives, and many of us might marry and even have children of our own

However, for those with more significant impairments in intellectual functioning and social skills, we may need lifelong care.

19. Whatever our age and intellectual ability, we can improve our skills

We can make progress beyond what anyone has ever thought possible through the understanding and application of the science of human behavior. Behavior analysts have published hundreds of research papers in the area of autism. For this reason, Applied Behavior Analysis is regarded as the only scientifically validated treatment for autism. Click here to see more on how ABA can be used in the treatment of autism. Click here for conferences and training for educators, parents and clinicians interested in using behavioral technologies for effective change.

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20. Finally, and for the last time, the MMR vaccine does not cause autism!

There is no debate in the scientific community about this. Read Chapter 16 in Bad Science by Dr. Ben Goldacre if you don’t believe me. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 report if you don’t believe Dr. Goldacre. If you still remain unconvinced, you should note that the only scientist who ever published a paper suggesting that the MMR vaccine caused Autism was stripped of the right to practice medicine in the UK as a result of the paper he published being deemed fraudulent. The journal that published that paper, The Lancet, retracted the paper in part in 2004 and in full in 2010.

Featured photo credit: Shannon O’Brien via shannonrosephotography.weebly.com

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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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