As a clinical psychology student at Lutherwood, I have the pleasure of working with many children, youth, and emerging adults who are on the autism spectrum. With April 2 being World Autism Day, I am inspired to share some of my experience working with people on the autism spectrum.
Autism Ontario describes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a life-long neurological disorder that affects the way a person communicates and relates to the people and world around them. In Canada, 1 in 66 children is diagnosed with ASD. Autism can affect behaviour, feelings, social interactions, and one’s ability to communicate verbally. Having said that, it is important to know that while autism may contribute to certain challenges, the degree to which each person experiences these challenges varies.
There is a growing autism rights movement that encourages us to welcome autism as a different way of functioning, not a disorder or lesser way of being. People with this perspective argue that autism is not a disease to be cured; rather treatment should be focused on accepting an individual as they are, and helping them cope with their environment rather than trying to be “normal.”
One thing I love about working with people on the spectrum is how genuine our interactions can be. I’ve noticed that most people with autism that I’ve met have a wonderful straightforwardness that is a breath of fresh air! People with autism tend to have a welcome ability to bring out my most authentic self because they come forward with such honesty, without necessarily expecting all the social rules that can sometimes get in the way of just being ourselves.
Another aspect of autism that I’ve come to appreciate is learning from the intense interests of the clients I’ve seen over the years. If you ever want to get a thorough, insider’s perspective on something, find someone with autism who has an intense interest in the topic, and they can tell you everything you’d want to know.
I am grateful for the people on the spectrum who share a small part of their lives with me. It is deeply rewarding to get to see the world from a perspective that is different from my own.
If you are working with someone with autism, it might be helpful to be open to their way of experiencing the world. Autism Ontario offers these and other tips:
- Be positive, calm and unhurried.
- Take your cues from the person you are supporting.
- Use direct, simple language and give them time to respond.