The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
For those of you who don’t know, April is Autism Awareness Month, so I thought I would put together an article explaining a bit about autism as well as some tips on how you can support the autistic community.
Whilst I have autistic loved ones, as a non-autistic person, I will never truly understand what it is like to be autistic. So, in order to create this article, I have collected information and life stories directly from the autistic community, whose content I have listed at the end of this article.
I would also like to mention here I am going to use identity-first language (e.g. ‘autistic person’ as opposed to ‘person with autism’) throughout this article as this is generally the preferred form of language within the autistic community.
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological developmental disability which affects how a person interacts and processes the world around them. The five main areas of diagnostic criteria for autism are difficulty communicating, difficulty socialising, intense interest in select topics, sensory processing difficulties, and an underdeveloped Theory of Mind (which will be explained later).
- Some autistic people are non-verbal, meaning they do not talk at all, therefore making communication a little difficult.
- However, this does not mean they are incapable of communicating with others, it just means they find other ways to communicate.
- Contrary to a lot of the information out there, autistic people do enjoy socialising, but can sometimes struggle because their behaviour is often misinterpreted as antisocial.
- Acknowledging and understanding everyone expresses themselves differently, and being mindful and respectful of that is a very important life skill, no matter who you are interacting with.
- Many autistic people will be very interested in a select number of topics, which they will enjoy researching and learning about in their spare time.
- Researching these interests can take up quite time-consuming, so autistic people really enjoy talking about them.
- So, when your autistic friends are discussing their interests, remember to listen and take an interest in what they are saying. No one likes to feel as though they aren’t being heard!
- In order to cope with sensory overload, autistic people will sometimes wear ear defenders and ear plugs, or other such devices to avoid distress.
- Not all noises are distressing to autistic people, but when they are, these coping strategies help a lot.
Theory of Mind
- Theory of Mind refers to the ability to understand unsaid social cues that indicate the emotions and intentions of other people.
- Difficulties with this can lead to autistic people being misread as cold or unfeeling when this is in fact not true.
- There is actually evidence to suggest autistic people feel more deeply than neurotypical people!
However, despite what is shown in the media, there is no one way to be autistic and so these diagnostic criteria present are unique to each individual.
What is stimming?
Stimming can be thought of as a self-soothing technique used in times of distress or can be an expression of joy or heightened emotion of any kind.
There are several ways in which autistic people can stim, including but not limited to: physical stimming, vocal stimming, and the use of stim toys.
- Physical stims could be dancing, pacing, or the flapping of arms.
- Vocal stimming covers any noise that can be made from your mouth.
- As for stim toys, the most well-known stim toy is the fidget spinner, although there are many other types of stim toys out there.
Finally, if you ever see an autistic person stimming in public, it’s best to ignore them and let them continue with their day, as no one likes to be stared at.
How to support the Autistic Community?
Due to misconceptions about autism and ableist mindsets, autistic people often feel as though they have to hide their authentic selves from the rest of the world. The hiding of autistic traits is known as masking, which requires a lot of energy of the autistic individual. This can ultimately lead to anxiety, burnout, and depression.
Therefore, understanding and educating yourself about the needs of autistic people is incredibly important. Just because autistic people express themselves differently to neurotypicals does not mean that they are bad at expressing themselves!
Below I have compiled a shortlist of ways you can support the autistic community:
- Listen to autistic people!
No one is more informed on what it is like to be autistic than an autistic person. It is therefore incredibly important that when you are seeking information, you ensure your sources are from members of the autistic community.
- Change your language and behaviour to be more autism-friendly!
Even though generally autistic individuals prefer identity-first language, others may prefer person-first language. So, it is important to ask autistic individuals what they are most comfortable with! Also, it is crucial to note-making fun of people like Disney adults is an anti-autism thing.
- If you donate to a charity make sure it’s actually helping autistic people!
Autism Speaks and Next for Autism are just two of many ‘charities’ that are eugenics based. How to tell if a charity is legitimately trying to help is if they are run by autistic people for autistic people. Avoid places looking for a cure as there is no cure for autism because there is nothing wrong with being autistic.
- Use your privilege to boost autistic voices!
Share posts, like, and follow autistic people online. Make room for autistic voices to be heard.
- Pass on what you have learnt and call out others!
Correct others who are less informed and point them in the direction of resources to learn from. Make sure to be polite as everyone has to learn at their own pace. Nothing wrong with being wrong as long as you are willing to learn and grow.
Go check out:
Accalia Baronets – Article: Why I Boycott Autism Speaks, And You Should Too.
Annie Elainey – Youtube: I’m Autistic
Jessica Kellgren-Fozard – YouTube: Autism Tropes in Media
Jaswal, V. K., & Akhtar, N. (2019). Being versus appearing socially uninterested: Challenging assumptions about social motivation in autism. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 42.
@neurodifferent – Instagram
@neurodivergent_lou – Instagram
@autienelle – Instagram
@transteachertales – Instagram