When a friend of mine from college found out his son had autism, he expressed his concern about the possible challenges of raising an autistic child. “My wife and I face enough obstacles as it is,” he said, “I wonder what more challenges an autistic child might add to the marriage.” This sentiment is understandable, as those who love and care for someone with autism know all too well the difficulties that come with it. However, instead of focusing on the challenges, it is important to focus on inspiring actions and show compassion for those with autism. Here are eighteen things to remember if you love someone with autism.
1. They are not broken – Autism is nobody’s fault
When dealing with an autistic loved one, it is all too easy to go into “fix it” mode. However, the mindset of wanting to fix them can be very damaging. Instead, it is important to remember that your loved one did not choose autism, and it is not their fault. Just as it is no more their fault than it is for anyone else who has a difficult situation, they need love, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand.
2. They can be socially awkward
Everyone has had moments where they have experienced social awkwardness. When you love someone who has autism, you may experience frequent moments of social incompetence by association. You may feel embarrassed and frustrated, but remember that aggression, compulsive behavior, and hyperactivity are symptoms of the condition and are outside of their control. Find happiness in learning to find some humor in these moments.
3. They can be hard to communicate with
From initial speech delays in their early developmental years to speech impairments as they progress, it can be hard to communicate with someone who is autistic. You will constantly have to find new and creative ways to connect. Remember that speaking is not the only way to talk.
4. They have limited focus
If a loved one has autism, remember that they probably have limited focus. This means that they either will zone in on a few limited things or can’t focus on anything at all. However, you can turn this challenge into a positive opportunity. If you find one thing that they love, be supportive and help them flourish.
5. They can seem to lack emotion
Many people who have autism will lack expressive features. They avoid eye contact, often speak monotone, and wear blank expressions. This may make them seem apathetic. They may not be able to communicate in a way we understand, but lack of expression does not mean lack of emotion or empathy.
6. They like structure
Many of our autistic loved ones are obsessive about repetition and routine. It is not always going to be easy in our normal lives of chaos and disorder to accommodate this need for balance. But understand that the more you can create an atmosphere of routine and stability, the more you allow them to thrive.
7. They love information – trivia
It’s not uncommon to find that our autistic loved ones are a wealth of information when it comes to random trivia statistics and knowledge. Like a sponge, they have the ability to regurgitate stored information eloquently. While this behavior is often compulsive, remember that they are sharing what they love or care about with you. Be patient and take the time to listen to what could be their passion.
8. They are visual learners
Visual support helps autistic kids move more efficiently through the day. Before we judge our loved ones with autism as slow, remember that even we “regular learners” sometimes need some visual aid to help us process and digest information better.
9. They are not all the same
The condition affects everyone differently and each case will require a different type of specialized attention. It is important to treat everyone with autism respectfully and celebrate their individuality. Knowing one person with autism means nothing because they are all so uniquely different.
10. They have unusual eating behaviors
Autistic kids have extreme sensitivities and preferences when it comes to food choices. This can be frustrating to deal with, but it is a problem that if you are aware of, can save a lot of heartache.
11. They are resistant to touch
Individuals with autism are often uncomfortable and resist being touched. While you may want to comfort them with your touch, it is really you who is seeking the comfort.
12. They can be sensory sensitive
The normal everyday hustle and bustle can be overwhelming to our loved ones with autism. Normal senses like sight, sound, and taste can be jarring, frightening, and painful. It is impossible to avoid all outside stimuli, but understanding the discomfort they go through is a huge first step to loving someone with the condition.
13. They take things literally
Puns, nuances, metaphors, and idioms are often lost and confusing to the autistic. “Hold your horses”, “it’s a piece of cake”, “lets hit the road”. If you have ever read an Amelia Bedlia book, you will understand how confusing language can be without a point of reference.
14. They can be temperamental
When our loved ones seem to be agitated, withdrawn, or manic, do not answer with a quick and impulsive response to the behavior. Instead, try to understand that these behaviors are symptoms of missed communication. They may be trying to tell you they are tired, frustrated, or hungry.
15. They need affirmation and reassurance
As humans, we have come to crave and thrive on positive affirmation and reassurance. When dealing with an autistic loved one, remember that the need is greatly heightened.
16. They have difficulty finding medical help
Being medically diagnosed with autism is not the same as having the flu where you can find quick and easy access to medical care. Because the condition is extremely individual and no two cases will be the same.
17. They still like to have fun
Remember that they still deserve to have fun and joy in their lives. Find things that they enjoy and schedule a time to engage in those activities.
18. They are not a label
People with autism are unique in their passions and talents. They are not limited by a label, as labels often carry perceptions that limit our passions and hinder us from becoming who we want to be.
In conclusion, if you love and care for someone with autism, it is important to remember that they are not broken but just different. Instead of focusing on their challenges, we should focus on inspiring actions and show compassion for their struggles. By taking the time to understand our loved ones with autism, we can provide support and create a more positive and fulfilling relationship.