Since it is Autism Awareness month, I wanted to speak to a little of what I have noticed in my work with Autism and Aspergers. Specifically, I wanted to focus on ways to support people in your life who may be on the spectrum. My advice on this would start with something simple. Get to know their world.
- What things do they notice are different for them? This could be something like sensory overwhelm from taking a shower or being immersed in water. I once had someone with Autism tell me that they love to go to concerts, but the crowds and sensory overwhelm caused them to shut down — possibly to the point of a meltdown. They learned a technique to focus on one person in the audience and wonder if they were a famous person in history, what would they have done? This method allowed them to resource and got through what would be impossible previously. If you have social anxiety, you might even learn a thing or two from techniques like this.
- What are their special interests – Everyone has individual interests, but people on the spectrum tend to have incredibly deep knowledge in a particular area or category. If you have watched Ellen lately, you may have seen the kid who knows every country’s name, position on a map, and flag. This is a perfect example of something you might find in a particular interest surrounding a kid or adult on the spectrum.
- What is a challenge for them? Change can be difficult for everyone, but for people on the spectrum, this can be particularly challenging as there is a lot of sensory input from the feeling of clothing. Multiple times I have run into clients where they tend to wear the same style of clothes and t-shirts to work daily. This becomes tricky when a brand or style is discontinued. I have even heard clients describe a grieving process to this change. Changes like this can be tough — and yes, they will survive them, but they are still challenging. Moving and job changes can easily fall into this same painful area.
- Interpreting and categorizing information can be different. When I ask you, “What kind of car do you have?” You would likely respond with the make and model and maybe the color of your vehicle. For some people on the spectrum, they may categorize that information differently. I was once talking with a client about a new car they had bought. I asked them what kind it was and they replied to me with the plate number. In their mind, they categorized everything by numbers and patterns. The make, model, and color were not a category. Again, this isn’t to say everyone on the spectrum is like this, and it’s just a reminder of how minds work differently and the importance of appreciating and getting to know those differences. Often the analogy is made to think about it as a different computer operating system — some things function in slightly different ways.
Having Autism or what was formerly known as Aspergers doesn’t mean that their difficulties are evident. Yes, sometimes there are social cues you may notice such as a lack of eye contact. I find it necessary also to point out that some of the greatest innovators are thought to have been on the spectrum like Mozart, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs to name a few. What makes for a good innovator? A person who thinks differently and can hyperfocus on their ideas with obsessive focus. We have talked in the past about why talking about Aspergers is important and how to overcome symptoms of Autism and ADHD. We hope this will be helpful too!
Just Mind Update: Just Mind is growing! In June we will be expanding our offices to have a total of 12 therapy rooms and testing and assessment (coming later in 2017). We will be extending the hours of our clinicians and adding a few more to meet demand. If you have friends who are looking for counseling, please send them our way!