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20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You

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.

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 December 2, 2018

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

7 Public Speaking Techniques To Help Connect With Your Audience

When giving a presentation or speech, you have to engage your audience effectively in order to truly get your point across. Unlike a written editorial or newsletter, your speech is fleeting; once you’ve said everything you set out to say, you don’t get a second chance to have your voice heard in that specific arena.

You need to make sure your audience hangs on to every word you say, from your introduction to your wrap-up. You can do so by:

1. Connecting them with each other

Picture your typical rock concert. What’s the first thing the singer says to the crowd after jumping out on stage? “Hello (insert city name here)!” Just acknowledging that he’s coherent enough to know where he is is enough for the audience to go wild and get into the show.

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It makes each individual feel as if they’re a part of something bigger. The same goes for any public speaking event. When an audience hears, “You’re all here because you care deeply about wildlife preservation,” it gives them a sense that they’re not just there to listen, but they’re there to connect with the like-minded people all around them.

2. Connect with their emotions

Speakers always try to get their audience emotionally involved in whatever topic they’re discussing. There are a variety of ways in which to do this, such as using statistics, stories, pictures or videos that really show the importance of the topic at hand.

For example, showing pictures of the aftermath of an accident related to drunk driving will certainly send a specific message to an audience of teenagers and young adults. While doing so might be emotionally nerve-racking to the crowd, it may be necessary to get your point across and engage them fully.

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3. Keep going back to the beginning

Revisit your theme throughout your presentation. Although you should give your audience the credit they deserve and know that they can follow along, linking back to your initial thesis can act as a subconscious reminder of why what you’re currently telling them is important.

On the other hand, if you simply mention your theme or the point of your speech at the beginning and never mention it again, it gives your audience the impression that it’s not really that important.

4. Link to your audience’s motivation

After you’ve acknowledged your audience’s common interests in being present, discuss their motivation for being there. Be specific. Using the previous example, if your audience clearly cares about wildlife preservation, discuss what can be done to help save endangered species’ from extinction.

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Don’t just give them cold, hard facts; use the facts to make a point that they can use to better themselves or the world in some way.

5. Entertain them

While not all speeches or presentations are meant to be entertaining in a comedic way, audiences will become thoroughly engaged in anecdotes that relate to the overall theme of the speech. We discussed appealing to emotions, and that’s exactly what a speaker sets out to do when he tells a story from his past or that of a well-known historical figure.

Speakers usually tell more than one story in order to show that the first one they told isn’t simply an anomaly, and that whatever outcome they’re attempting to prove will consistently reoccur, given certain circumstances.

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6. Appeal to loyalty

Just like the musician mentioning the town he’s playing in will get the audience ready to rock, speakers need to appeal to their audience’s loyalty to their country, company, product or cause. Show them how important it is that they’re present and listening to your speech by making your words hit home to each individual.

In doing so, the members of your audience will feel as if you’re speaking directly to them while you’re addressing the entire crowd.

7. Tell them the benefits of the presentation

Early on in your presentation, you should tell your audience exactly what they’ll learn, and exactly how they’ll learn it. Don’t expect them to listen if they don’t have clear-cut information to listen for. On the other hand, if they know what to listen for, they’ll be more apt to stay engaged throughout your entire presentation so they don’t miss anything.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm4.staticflickr.com

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