When you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism
Dr Stephen Shore once said, “When you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”. This is a popular quote that highlights how Autism is very diverse. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects an individual’s perception of the world and their interaction with others ("Ambitious about Autism", 2017). As it is a spectrum disorder, individuals are affected differently despite sharing some common traits. Those include having difficulty in communication, social interactions, and having a restricted set of routines as well as repeated behaviours. However, like typical developing individuals, people with autism have different personalities, likes and dislikes. In many ways, Autism can impact an individual, but it does not define him or her. Therefore, we should not judge them based on their diagnosis and instead interact with them and try to accept and understand them as different individuals.
Challenges faced by people with Autism
As mentioned above, some of the challenges which people with Autism may have are having difficulty in communication, social interactions, and having a restricted set of routines as well as repeated behaviours. However, even these differences may greatly differ depending on the individual.
While some individuals with Autism may genuinely have little interest or difficulty in connecting with people (“Social Issues”, 2008), resulting in the group being described as having a lack of empathy, a lot of them actually have the interest to connect with others. However, due to the lack of social skills and difficulty in understanding and recognising how others are feeling, socialising can be incredibly challenging for them. One reason they might have such difficulty understanding people's emotion could be their tendency to avoid eye contact; information of a person's feelings can be gathered by an individual's eyes and mouth (McRae, 2017).
Within this characteristic itself, avoidance of eye contact can vary between individuals. Some individuals are able to maintain good eye contact, while others avoid it like the plague. This is possibly due to sensory differences between the individuals.
Another reason could be a tendency to miss or misread the signals, hence finding difficulty in interpreting the behaviours shown without specific instructions given.
Likewise, it can differ greatly between individuals in their levels of social communication. Some would talk to others when they need something, while there are also those who would solely talk about their own interests, overlooking the interest of the people they are talking to ( "Ambitious about Autism", 2017). This is due to them lacking the understanding that different people have separate beliefs, interests, perceptions and intentions from them, what is known as Theory of Mind. The lack of Theory of Mind in people with Autism affects how they socialize with others as they have difficulty putting themselves in others’ shoes which might cause issues, such as a lack of accomodation to others, and not understanding how their behaviours affect others (“Social Issues”, 2008). These issues would therefore create a barrier between them and others due to a weaker ability to build, connect and maintain relationships (Soraya, 2008).
Another challenge which people of Autism face is having repetitive and restricted behaviour. Individuals with Autism may display certain behaviours repeatedly. For example, flapping of arms, opening and closing of doors, spinning in circles, etc. They may also have intense interest in specific objects, parts of objects and special interests or topics (Sarris, 2013). While a common example given may be a fascination with trains, the fact is that the interests of these individuals vary to such a large extent, it is difficult to categorise them in any one group.
Such repetitive behaviours often occur when individuals with autism have excess anxiety and are unable to overcome their anxiety in an appropriate manner, thus fueling their need to display a motor activity repeatedly (Cashin, 2018). For example, the flicking of fingers. Researchers have also suggested that there might be a correlation between sensory problems and repetitive behaviours. For example, having hyposensitivity to touch may cause an individual to seek certain texture or sensory input, thus resulting in an individual pinching themselves in order to receive the input they need.
Of course, the degree of severity in repetitive and restrictive behaviour also varies among individuals with Autism. Some individuals may only display such behaviours under extreme stress or anxiety while others display them frequently. The latter group would usually have to bear negative consequences affecting their social relationships and other daily activities.
We may come across individuals with Autism who have similar characteristics and those who are different. Despite the many challenges they may face and what we may observe, there is still beauty in their imperfections. Their fascination drives them to pursue a single passion that has the potential to call upon changes in the world. For example, Temple Grandin's interest in animals pushed her to help animals receive humane treatment in the livestock for slaughter. Similarly, those with good memory and a keen eye for details, like Stephen Wiltshire, is able to draw any landscape which he has only seen once.
There is a quote that says, “We are all different. Don’t judge, understand instead”. It is important not to immediately judge someone by what we see in a brief snapshot. Instead, we should strive to first understand them. After all, when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve really just met one person with autism.
Written by Venezia.
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