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.