Autism differs from one autistic person to the next. Assuming that all autistic people require the same amount of attention and support is absurd. I have often found myself unsure about how to act or be helpful towards my autistic friends and I know for many others starting to gain more awareness about autism; you may be in the same situation.
Autism is a disability that affects how people communicate and interact with the world. Despite this, autistic people still have ways of interacting with the world as best they can. People often think those with autism lack empathy. That is simply not true. In fact, they are highly concerned about the feelings of others, more often than not. Other misconceptions include autism being a disease, vaccinations and bad parenting causing autism, and autism becoming an epidemic. These myths come about by those who aren't properly educated about autism. Therefore, as more awareness is being created around autism, it is important to understand how to support your autistic friends.
I often considered myself as someone who struggled to be a good autistic ally. With my first autistic friend, I wasn't sure how to support them and it felt like I was being constantly unhelpful. I didn't know how to help them in high-stress situations or situations that cause sensory overload. over sensory situations. I didn't know what stimming mechanisms they used. I didn't know how to understand them. This was all before I learnt to be patient and listen. I was listening to my friend explain themselves as well as watching their actions to understand how they overcome a situation. This way I could replicate the same support to make it easier for them.
I currently have many autistic friends which experience their autism differently. are all on different parts of the spectrum. They are what led me to write this article. If they're comfortable with answering, I like to ask how their autism affects them and what I can do to support them so that I can make sure I do my best at being an ally. Here are some words of advice and suggestions that I have gathered along the way of asking them:
1. Treat them like they're a normal person. Being autistic doesn't mean that they are a freak or distinct from the rest of humanity. They just want to be treated as normal. This can happen through acceptance, love and inclusion. Accept them for who they are and love them all the same. Don't leave them out from activities or events you have with your other friends.
2. Everyone on the autism spectrum is different and for someone to ask an autistic person to make noises is a horrible thing to do. Not everyone on the spectrum is like that and no one should assume that they are. Respect them for who they are.
3. Allow them to stim if they need to. Stimming is a repeated action using body parts or objects to help reduce stress or anxiety levels. It could include the tapping of fingers, jumping, spinning, rocking, flicking of objects, or even twirling a piece of string. Some autistic people do it for fun, others do it as an attempt to gain or reduce sensory input. Some situations can cause a high amount of stress and stimming can help that. Please do not treat them as if they are weird for stimming. They are not freaky, weird or embarrassing for their stimming and for just being themselves. If their stimming mannerisms bother you, please let them know in a polite way.
4. Have patience. A lot of it. Autistic people process things differently and as a result, may come across to you as strange and weird. You must remember to have patience, tolerance and understanding in these cases. For example, understanding why they may leave a situation where it is loud as it could be a result of sensory overload. Patience can make an autistic person feel more comfortable, especially when voicing their feelings as they can be really hard to articulate at times.
5. Which is why this point is very important: refrain from talking over them. Most times autistic people don't need someone to speak for them and if they did, they would request that. It is extremely frustrating for them to be babied or interrupted just because they're autistic. For example, not calling out their deficiencies in social skills unless they've told you.
They're trying extremely hard to mask that so they would feel uncomfortable if they were called out in it without their consent. They do not need an advocate for their voice, they just need time and patience to express their own.
6. Even the littlest things are seen as support, for example- putting subtitles on when watching something to support their audio processing.
Remember, being autistic is a part of them and the spectrum is so big that it affects every autistic person differently. You need to ensure you have patience and understanding so you can start your journey to being a good ally. Be kind and love each other.
Okay, so a lot of people have their own viewpoints on what autism actually is, and a lot of these opinions are media based. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder, and has many different factors, including but not limited to, social interaction, communication (both verbal and non-verbal), intellectual capacity and repetitive behaviours. When people hear autism, they typically think of Rainman, Sheldon Cooper, or the highly intelligent, quiet person at school that is socially awkward. That is autism, but that isn’t solely what it is.
I was diagnosed a few months ago with high-functioning autism. This basically means that I’m able to communicate to a degree, although I find it difficult, and I struggle picking up on a lot of different social cues, and struggle in some social situations. I do have a higher IQ than a lot of people my age, and I have some extreme obsessions, namely with music. It’s my strongest passion. Mention George Ezra or Lewis Capaldi and I could talk for hours with no issues.
It took 17 years for me to actually be diagnosed, because first of all, I’m a girl. There are so many differences between boys and girls being diagnosed. Boys display autism differently from girls. It’s so much harder to receive a correct diagnosis as a girl, often being told that it’s “typical girl behaviour” because of our obsessions, or social awkwardness and that all girls do it. I showed behaviours from a young age, but was told “I’ll grow out of it.” I didn’t. Fast forward to age 15, I was receiving some help for my anxiety when I was asked about my thoughts on Autism, and if I thought I maybe had it. At first, I was in denial, going off the stereotypes. I did some research, and deliberated for a while. It makes so much sense. I went through a test called an ADOS, which is used to help diagnose autism in children and young people, and a week later I was given a diagnosis.
I’ve found over the past few months, when I tell people about autism, or have seen other things on social media, there are a lot of misconceptions and people jump to conclusions. I want to address a few of these.
“You don’t look autistic.” This is probably one of the worst things that you can say to someone who has been diagnosed. There isn’t a set look when you’re autistic, it’s not like we have 3 eyes or a horn coming out of our heads. “Oh my god you must be so smart can you do my homework?” No. I’m not doing your maths homework. Or your science homework. I’m hopeless at both, they’re not my thing at all. “Are you sure you’re autistic? You don’t act like it?” This is one of the more annoying ones, where people look taken aback because you’re actually able to engage in conversation. “Don’t you have those ear defenders things?” Nope, I like to joke about it with close friends, but I can actually process a lot of sensory things. They’re helpful, but I’m not reliant on them.
Now this one is even more annoying, but people try to compare me to another autistic person they know. “Oh but my friend's cousin's sister is autistic and she’s non-verbal.” Okay? It’s called a SPECTRUM. Where everyone is completely different. This also means it isn’t just a straight line, with non-verbals at one end, and high functioning, maths geniuses at the other. It’s so much more complex than that. No two autistics are the same.
So, I hope I helped with some of the misconceptions. For any autistics, or those waiting to be diagnosed, if you ever want help, I’d highly recommend looking at the National Autistic Society’s website. They have a lot of information, and in some areas, they even have support groups, which I personally think could be brilliant!
As gender is a social concept, meaning it has been created by society to “categorize” people, it can be very difficult for people on the autistic spectrum to understand and use it. It has been observed that there is a higher rate of struggles with gender among autistic people. By struggle, I mean not identifying with the gender you have been assigned at birth.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a large amount of people all over the world, regardless of their origin, sex, age (as it is a life-long condition). One of the characteristics of autism is a lack or struggle of understanding social cues. This is why gender can be even more problematic for autistic people, as it is impossible to grasp for their brain.
From a very young age, I always struggled with gender, as I could wear anything “male” or “female” and feel good in it. I was supposed to wear pink and dresses with flowers because of what society expected, but anything felt right to me. When I discovered the LGBT+ community, I realized I could have a different gender. It then varied from genderfluid (a person who doesn’t identify as having a fixed gender), to transgender man (a person that has a different gender to what they were assigned at birth, here, male), to non-binary (a person that identifies as neither man nor woman), and more, but I felt like nothing really was me. Now, I identify as agender, as it is the closest to what I feel, which is identifying to none gender.
This article is mainly to raise awareness of the struggles with gender when you have autism, and tell my peers that it is okay if you don’t understand. And that no one can tell you that you have to look a certain way.
Here are some tips to help you in your search for yourself:
(some are for everyone struggling with gender, not only autistic people)
Try different types of clothing, make-up, hairstyles, and see what suits you the best.
Look at the definitions of different genders and see which you feel more comfortable with. (You may find less-known genders that would suit you.)
Ask other people about how they perceive their gender, they may help you.
Remember, no one can tell you who you are.
Also, I recently discovered autigender.
Autigender is a gender that was specially created for autistic people who struggle with identifying as one or other gender (or who don’t care, or don’t understand). The definition is for someone whose autism “affects” their perception of gender. I don’t really like this definition, as it feels as if autism is a problem that prevents us from understanding it. In fact, it is more that society wants us to have a gender defined that is problematic.
You can also identify as autigender, even if it is less known, it is a good representation of how many of us feel!
I hope this can help you.
If you need help, you can always contact a helpline. You may find the numbers for your country on the internet. In Switzerland, the number is 147. In France, it is 3114. Both are free. Overall, most of the countries possess a free helpline number. And if you are in immediate danger you can call the urgencies number.