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Life through an autistic lens

THE SPECTRUM

‘Autism’ refers to a range of neurodevelopmental traits which are different from what is considered to be ‘neurotypical’. Each may present itself in a different way and to differing degrees in every individual, hence why autism is a “spectrum” of differences.

In essence, autism is a name for the way in which a person experiences and interprets the world throughout their life.

The autistic lens commonly influences …

INVISIBLE AND UNIQUE

At least 1 in every 100 people are autistic. Yet, since many more remain undiagnosed, realistically that number is likely to be far higher.

The world is quick to judge, especially faced with something ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ that it doesn’t recognise, such as autism.

Add to that the fact that society often celebrates only a narrow slice of our true potential as humans, and this happens: many autistic people exist in a world that judges them negatively for what they can’t do, excluded from opportunities that are geared towards the neurotypical, and their talents and characters being completely overlooked.

Every individual’s experience of autism is unique, even if we recognise certain common traits across the spectrum.

So, to understand the context in which an individual’s world is interpreted and managed, we need to consider each autistic person’s strengths and needs individually.

We all benefit when we create opportunities for everyone to succeed.

Some common autistic strengths include:

COMPASSION for INDIVIDUAL CONTEXTS

Context is a good basis for our encounters with anyone, autistic or not.

Contextual understanding helps us to be more empathic, compassionate and non-judgemental, allowing us to make meaningful connections and to promote a mutually respectful rapport. This way, everyone should feel able to contribute and succeed.

This is especially helpful when we recognise another common trait of autism. This one poses a tremendous barrier to an individual’s ability to access the world around them: heightened anxiety.

ANXIETY

Anxiety is usually caused by the combined experiences of:

1. Spending a lifetime navigating a world that has been designed for a conventional majority in society, even though autistic people may not think, process information or function in line with these expected ‘norms’. Working so hard to make sense of and often to comply with conventional norms can evoke genuine fear and anxiety about the unknown ‘threats’ and challenges that must be faced, especially if there are no alternatives available.

2. A sense of lacking both control and autonomy in unfamiliar or overwhelming situations.

Fear or anxiety amongst autistic individuals are commonly a result of …

TERMINOLOGY: ASD, ASC – or simply ‘autistic’?

The medical world often refers to ‘disorders’ whereas ‘condition’ is more common within education and social settings.

Since ‘disorder’ implies a difficulty or deficit, and ‘condition’ suggests an illness, it’s preferable to see autism as a spectrum of wiring difference from what is considered to fall within what is seen as ‘typical’ for the majority.

Asked how they would prefer to be referred to, 61% of autistic people say they prefer the first person identifier – ‘autistic’. They feel that ‘having autism’ conveys an idea of having an illness (study by CRAE and the NAS). And since that carries notions of “reduced capacity” and even needing a “cure”, this is most certainly not helpful.

THE AUTISTIC EDGE

It is more helpful to view autism as a different lens through which autistic people view and experience the world. And while an autistic person will likely face challenges in some areas of their life, their lens will give them an advantage in other areas.

Like each of us, an autistic individual has unique strengths, talents and potential. WayMakers believe that our wider society must offer up a world that creates opportunities for everyone to flourish, to participate, to feel valued and to succeed.

NB The term ‘neurodiverse’ is often used to describe autism, amongst other wiring differences. It actually describes the full scope of variables in the human brain and its wiring, therefore we are all neurodiverse. ‘Neurodistinct’ is perhaps a more accurate way to identify those whose brains interpret and respond in less ‘typical’ ways; this includes those people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.