The Autism Difference

Shannon Rosa with son Leo (Source: Huffington Post)

May is Mental Health Month and Shannon Rosa shares her experience of being a parent with a 13-year-old autistic son with some very important points on gaining perspective from an autistic child’s point of view. Unlike many people Shannon found the updated statistic from the CDC, which states that 1 in 68 children are autistic, to be a comforting number. For her, it just serves as a confirmation that her son is neither “damaged or broken – he’s an example of human variation, like any kid.” And as CDC’s Dr. Colleen Boyle states, “It may be that we’re getting better at identifying autism,” which simply confirms research that the autism community has been gathering for years.

Shannon admits that her son’s differences used to upset her and it was a part of him that she found hard to accept. However, with more information and support she has come to understand her son’s differences as something to be accepted and getting him the best resources to accommodate his needs was an important part of this. Getting others to understand autistic children is an ongoing effort. For example, Shannon explains that many parents should not just give up hope after their child hits puberty since many autistic people develop skills throughout adolescence and adulthood. We should also be more aware of sensory overload and how they can lead to their child having a meltdown and so on. She leaves us with these points on how to view/interact with her son Leo and children like him on the spectrum, especially if you are not a parent of an autistic child or unfamiliar with autism:

  • Leo isn’t waiting around for other kids to be friends with him. If he is spoken to with respect, then he may or may not interact with you.
  • Just because he cannot communicate as well as you doesn’t mean he is less intelligent. If you talk about him as though he isn’t there he will remember and be unlikely to trust you.
  • Getting both Leo’s attention and eye contact can be overwhelming for him. He makes eye contact on his own terms, but please don’t demand it.
  • Sometimes it takes Leo a minute to process what you’ve said to him, so just give him a moment instead of trying to simplify your language or shout in his ear.
  • Leo finds it calming to have sensory input such as sifting through pebbles, bouncing on a trampoline, or having a heavy blanket on his lap.
  • If Leo is fidgeting, tapping or exhibiting any other repetitive behavior, if it is not an inconvenience for you then just let him be as it serves as a soothing activity for him.
  • Leo is happy. Although autistic children experience frustration sometimes with communication or sensory overload they can be just as happy and joyous as any other child, something we tend to forget when messages about autism center around pity and prevention.

To read the original article, click here

For more resources on how to understand and care for autistic children, check out our International Autism Conference featuring:

Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, who will be presenting on Integrated Play Groups: Guiding Children with Autism in Social and Imaginary Worlds with Typical Peers.

Brian Iwata, who will be holding a workshop on Functional Analysis and Treatment of Severe Problem Behavior.

Marth Herbert, who will be presenting Taking a Fresh Look at Autism: Chronic Dynamic State–not Fixed Trait

To see these presentations/workshops and much more, CLICK HERE!

“Many people ask me what is like to have Asperger’s syndrome and my response to that is: You feel like you’re in a society with tons of people who say they are average and then there’s you who feels different and acts different and experiences life differently,” explains Matthew Archambault.

“I guess that leads me to believe you feel normal until told otherwise. When I was a young child I never saw myself as different until people looked at me differently and doctors told me I was different which changes your perspective on life. I believe society sets a standard for what normal is which is far from the truth, what if Asperger’s syndrome is a whole new way of thinking [and] judging by the numbers of Asperger’ diagnosed children it’s more normal than ever before and becoming a more popular way of thinking. For me Asperger syndrome is just a label because I stand out and don’t meet normal in society’s standards.”

In light of Autism Awareness month, we don’t want to just create awareness but also create acceptance. Autistic individuals have a lot to offer in a variety of settings. For example, the Israeli Defense Force Satellite Intelligence Unit assigns autistic soldiers to monitor combat maps to report the slightest changes. These soldiers have the ability to focus for hours on end opposed to non-autistic soldiers. Focusing in on a task is something that comes naturally to many autistic people.

Some other traits exemplified by autistic individuals in the workforce include:

1) their ability to stay on task even when unsupervised

2) their levels of creativity can bring new perspectives, especially for problem solving

3) their passionate nature leads to high levels of productivity

So as Matthew says, perhaps we really need to re-evaluate the way we discuss autism as a disorder. Autistic individuals can be empowered, high-functioning assets to society and we should acknowledge this before writing them off as “disabled.”

For more on autism and thriving in the workplace, click here

For autism simulations created to help you experience sensory overload, click here

“The Reason I Jump”

Many people have misconceptions on autism and the explanations behind certain behaviors people with autism tend to display. When Naoki Higashida was thirteen, he was fed up with the fallacies in people’s heads about the developmental delay, and wrote the book The Reason I Jump. As a nonverbal boy with autism, Higashida had to point to each letter individually on an alphabet grid to relay his thoughts, while someone wrote down his story. This alone disproves the idea that people with autism want to be left alone, an idea Naoki wanted to make sure he conveyed.

The book has an introduction by author David Mitchell, who explains that certain beliefs typical people have about autism are actually the opposite; for example, insensitivity is actually hypersensitivity, and the action of lining things (like toy cars, crayons, etc.), is actually a way of “keeping relentless perceptual onslaught at bay.” [i] There are only a handful of books actually written by someone with autism, compared to the volumes of parenting and how-to books written by someone who is typically developing. The book’s chapters answer questions that many people have, like “Why Do You Like Being in the Water?” which is answered with “we are a different kind of human, born with primeval senses…when we look at nature, we receive a sort of permission to be alive in this world, and our entire bodies get recharged.”

The Reason I Jump offers a new perspective on the autistic mind, providing insight on the things that run through someone with autism’s head. One of the main points the Naoki explains is,

“I think that people with autism are born outside the regime of civilization… [in which] a deep sense of crisis exists… Autism has somehow arisen out of this… if, by our being here, we could help the people of the world remember what truly matters for the Earth, that would give us a quiet pleasure.”

The notion of autism is skewed (and not for the better), and The Reason I Jump will hopefully steer the typically developing person back on track.


[i] “The Guardian” The reason I jump: One boy’s voice from the silence of autism, by Naoki Higashida – review. 27 Jul 2013. Web. < http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/29/reason-jump-autism-naoki-higashida-review>