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Why Staff Need More Training On Autism

I remember one time when I was shopping at a local supermarket. I was browsing alone, occasionally checking my phone and taking my time.

Once I paid for my products, a staff member suddenly came to me and asked me to open my backpack. I obeyed and opened it, and once the staff member saw inside, he said “Okay” and let me go on. No apology, no explanation, nothing.

Now, I was only aware he suspected me of shoplifting because I’d previously read a similar post by another autistic person in the same situation. But it got me thinking, what if this was an autistic person who was unfamiliar with what’s going on?

For some autistic people, they may have initially been confused by the request. They may have refused, because in their eyes it’s a complete invasion of privacy. This in turn could be misinterpreted as refusing to obey orders, resulting in the person getting in even more trouble for something they didn’t even do.

A lot of the behaviours that are deemed as suspicious behaviour can be common for autistic people. Including avoiding eye contact, hiding away from others, as well as struggling to answer questions thoroughly.

Many autistic people have also been arrested because the other person was unable to recognise they were having a meltdown, and mistook it for criminal activity. It is important to remember that meltdowns are uncontrollable, and are not an intentional act.
Meltdowns may present themselves through different actions. These can include screaming, punching, crying, self-harming, shouting and breaking things. (Click here for more information on autistic meltdowns.)

Autistic people also often feel mistreated due to lack of awareness. This is often due to misunderstandings about autistic behaviours, and misconceptions about how autism can manifest in people.

For example, an autistic person may find it hard to cope in an area that’s loud or bright. With the way autistic brains are wired, the person may react differently to others. However, these behaviours are often overlooked, or seen as “exaggerating” because people are not aware of how it affects us.

What can organisations do?

First and foremost, it is of the best interest of any organisation/company to learn more about autism, and train their employees to understand it. With the number of people being diagnosed rising every year, it is becoming increasingly more likely that a company will hire an autistic employee, or serve an autistic customer/client at some point.

However, here is a list of what can be done to better understand autistic behaviours:

  • Train workers to understand and recognise autistic behaviours, and to not immediately treat them as a threat
  • Listen to autistic people and take what they say seriously, even if you don’t understand how it affects them
  • Talk to autistic people, learn to see things from our point of view
  • Learn to recognise autistic meltdowns, and how to treat them
  • Be willing to take accommodations into account when hiring autistic employees

With more autism awareness and acceptance, we can help make the world a better place for autistic people.

Why Autistic People Develop Special Interests / “Obsessions”

If you’ve ever interacted with an autistic person, chances are you’ve found out they have a certain topic that they could talk about forever. You’ve probably even asked yourself, “How do they not seem to get bored talking about it?”

Whilst you may see them as “obsessions”, we call them special interests.

Whilst not all autistic people develop special interests, it is something a lot of us experience. Perhaps in the media, you’ve seen the autistic person who can’t stop talking about trains, or the one that is a whiz in maths or science, but can’t seem to interact with other people.

So, why are special interests so important to us?

Imagine living in a world where you feel incredibly misunderstood, and everything is confusing. Social interaction is hard, and people seem to be judging you just for being yourself.

But then, you have this special interest that helps make the world a better place for you. It’s something you can understand and enjoy, and everything about it just seems amazing.

It’s comparable to the feeling of falling in love. If you’ve ever met someone that you just couldn’t take your mind off of, or just seems great no matter what they do, and you want to brag about them to everyone you know, that’s what having a special interest is like.

Autistic people are also especially prone to “hyper-focusing”. This is when an autistic person spends an extensive amount of time focusing on one thing, without thinking about anything else. They may start working hours on something they’re interested in, forgetting to eat, drink, or even go to the toilet. Hyper-focusing can be extremely common when the person is engaged in their special interest.

Should you discourage these special interests?

Unless their special interest is something that could potentially be violent or dangerous, then absolutely not!

I remember when I was a child, I developed a strong special interest in animation, particularly SpongeBob SquarePants. I would talk about it to everyone I knew, and it became apparent that that was what people would associate me with.

Teaching assistants at my school seemed to think this was dangerous, and tried to forbid me from even mentioning SpongeBob. Even when I expressed interest in doing animation as a job, one of the teachers even had the nerve to tell me, “You probably won’t ever get a job in animation!”

Without these special interests, chances are I would’ve been miserable. They gave me a passion, they gave me something to talk about with people, they helped transform me into the person I am.

It’s also incredibly unlikely that discouraging the special interest would work anyway. Autistic people are much more likely to develop a new special interest immediately after losing a previous one. I remember asking my mum once, “Why did you never discourage my special interests like others have?” Her response was, “Well I know you’re going to develop another one anyway!”

A lot of autistic people have even gone on to say they felt “lost” without having a special interest, as if something was missing from them.

What are the benefits of having a special interest?

There are many advantages a special interest can give an autistic person in life.

  1. If the person has struggled to make friends previously, having a special interest may help them to get to know others with similar interests.
  2. It can help them find the right career in the future. The creator of Pokémon developed his idea by mixing his special interest in video games with his special interest in bug collecting.
  3. They can help teach social skills, especially if said interest is a TV series or book series.
  4. We can become incredibly passionate about what we’re interested in.
  5. We may become incredibly knowledgable in our field of interest, which may come as a huge advantage when it comes to seeking careers.

Have you got a special interest yourself? Or perhaps your child or partner does. Why not talk about it in the comments?

“Am I Faking Being Autistic?” – How To Put These Doubts To Rest

So, you’ve just found out you’re autistic, or you’ve begun to suspect it. You’ve started to research all these autistic traits, and thought to yourself, “Oh, so that’s why I behave this way!” You start to realise that all the stuff you deemed to be “weird” in the past may not have been so weird at all.

And then, you begin to doubt yourself….

Discovering whether or not you’re autistic can be a very stressful time. Not only are you discovering a major part of yourself, you’re now wondering if you can truly call yourself autistic or not.

I’ve been through this myself, and let me be the one to say this – you are not alone!

This is amongst the most frequently asked questions I’ve received from autistics. Whether they’re undiagnosed, undecided, or even diagnosed. So I’ve decided to compile a list of the most common reasons people believe they’re faking.

1. Being aware of your traits

One of the most likely causes of this doubt is the fact that you’re now aware of the traits you have, and know it’s autism causing them. When I was first diagnosed, I began to think to myself, “Well, I know what I’m doing is because of autism. Am I faking these traits? Surely since I know I’m doing them, that means I can stop!”

Why this doesn’t mean you’re faking:

Being aware of what you’re doing doesn’t mean you’re purposely pretending to be autistic. It means that you’re now understanding what autism is, and how it affects the things you do. Just because you’re aware of your traits, doesn’t mean you can stop them.

2. Comparing to other autistics

Another common reason people believe they’re faking is because they start comparing themselves to other autistic traits, and feel the other person’s autism is more noticeable than theirs.

Some may stop believing they’re faking because they start focusing more on the traits they don’t have, rather than the ones they do have. For example, seeing others talk about the meltdowns they have, and feeling they must be faking due to never experiencing a meltdown previously.

Why this doesn’t mean you’re faking:

Sometimes, we’re not actually so aware of our own autistic traits. We see what we believe are “more obvious” autistic traits in others, and fail to see how autism affects us. This may be due to masking, or because there’s still a lot about our own autism that we need to learn, amongst other potential reasons.
When I was first diagnosed, I compared myself to others. Including autistic people I knew, characters in books, even famous autistics. I felt at the time that I’d learnt a lot of social skills and that I was “fitting in” fine. Looking back…. I was very wrong, and I just wasn’t aware of it.

Additionally, no autistic person has every single trait/symptom. It’s important to remember that just because someone experiences a trait that you don’t, it doesn’t make you any less autistic. I seldom have meltdowns, but that doesn’t make me any less autistic than those who experience them frequently.

3. Comments from others

Sometimes, people believe they’re faking their autism because someone has told them “they don’t look autistic”, or flat out denied the possibility of them being autistic. This makes them doubt themselves a lot more, especially if the comment came from a friend, parent, or even a professional.

Why this doesn’t mean you’re faking:

Despite the fact that most people these days are aware of autism, there’s still a lot of people out there that don’t truly understand it, or how it affects people. Due to how autism is often portrayed in the media, a lot of people a view that all autistic people must behave in a certain way, or that they all can’t talk etc. Some may conclude you’re not autistic because they know just one autistic person, and think they all autistic people must behave like them.

Even with professionals, there’s still a lot that don’t properly understand autism. I’ve heard from others that professionals refused to diagnose them because the person had friends, or because they could talk, or perhaps most surprisingly, because they were a girl!

Remember, almost every autistic person will have someone tell them that they can’t be autistic, and that one comment doesn’t mean they’re right!

4. Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is the belief that no matter what issues you have, you don’t deserve the help you’re entitled to (amongst other things, such as not feeling you deserve the high score you received in a test). Perhaps no matter how many symptoms you feel you relate to, you think you don’t deserve a diagnosis as you worry that others deserve help more than you do. Maybe you feel you don’t deserve a diagnosis because others went through “so much more” than you have, or because you “don’t struggle that much”.

Why this doesn’t mean you’re faking:

Lots of people will be feeling the same as you do. It’s easy to start worrying that you don’t deserve a diagnosis, or you’re taking assistance away from someone you feel “actually needs it”, but if you feel you’re autistic, you deserve the support and help you need. Remember, it’s better to go and get assistance if you’re entitled to it, than to suffer in silence.

Have you ever doubted your autism? Perhaps you’re still having difficulty knowing whether or not you’re autistic, why not talk about your experiences in the comments?:

“Why is my autistic child or partner getting upset over certain noises?”:

Have you ever been walking somewhere with your child or partner, when suddenly they hear a certain noise and inexplicably start crying? Perhaps it’s not just one sound, maybe it’s multiple things that seem to be upsetting them. However, you just don’t seem to understand what is upsetting them so much.

Well, I’m here to give an insight to what may be going on in their minds!

Back when I was a child, going on a bus was torture for me. As much as I enjoyed the ride itself, I would break into tears the moment the bus began to brake. My parents eventually began to notice a pattern, and would eventually cover my ears every time the bus began to stop.

As soon as the bus stopped, the engine made a sound that, though it would normally go unnoticed by most people, was excruciatingly painful for me to hear.

This is because autistic people process sound very differently to most people. What may go unnoticed by most, can be a painful distraction to autistic people.

Imagine the typical brain. It hears sounds, but is generally able to filter out any noises that are unnecessary to focus on, and focuses only on the more important sounds. However, an autistic brain is more likely to struggle doing that. Autistic people often cannot filter out sounds that most block out.

Suddenly, we’re hearing so many things at once. This may become too hard to handle, and it can end up result in the person having a meltdown, crying, covering their ears, or just remaining frozen in place.

What you can do to help them:

Don’t question it, even if you don’t understand it:
One of the most common issues autistic people face when it comes to sensory issues is people refusing to believe there’s an issue, simply because nobody else is experiencing it. Even if you don’t understand, listen to them and take it seriously.

Learn what sounds they’re more likely to react to:
If they’re crying because of a certain sound, it’s not going to be a one-off thing. Even if they can’t speak, see if you can find a connection to work out what sounds may be bothering them.

If they need to leave, let them:
There’s nothing worse than struggling in a certain place or event and not being allowed to leave. For example, if they’re at a social event, make sure they know they can leave if they need to, or go to a quiet area to calm down.

Let them wear noise-cancelling headphones, or ear defenders:
Noise-cancelling headphones can be one of the greatest things to give to an autistic person. While it of course won’t cancel out other sensory issues, it’ll at least make sounds a lot easier to process and cope with.

Let them stim if it’s safe:
Stimming is a repetitive action a lot of autistic people do to express emotion, or to cope during stressful situations. If they stim to cope, there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as the stim in question is safe.

Got any other questions? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to get in touch as soon as I can!

BEING AUTISTIC DURING THE HOLIDAYS, AND HOW YOU CAN HELP

The holiday season is to many people, the happiest time of the year. A time to go celebrate, exchange presents, and visit family.

However, for an autistic person, the holiday season can be an incredibly stressful time, especially when not planned out right.

But why is that?

ROUTINE CHANGES

You may be aware that autistic people are very accustomed to routines, and often do not like a sudden change to their schedule. This is because we generally have a mental schedule in our heads of how our days will go, almost like a TV schedule. When suddenly something changes, it throws off our whole schedule as we try and readjust things, and that can be scary for us.

During Christmas, there are a lot of changes our minds have to adjust to. Suddenly shops are closing earlier in preparation, people are visiting without prior warning, and we have to readjust what we’re doing to accommodate Christmas traditions such as meals, masses etc.

UNEXPECTED SURPRISES

Similar to how autistic people may struggle to cope with routine changes, we often also struggle to cope with an unexpected surprise.

Imagine you’re just walking along the street, and then someone just hands you a bag, which is strange enough. Then they’re waiting and looking at you as they expect you to open the bag. Once you’ve opened it, you’re just staring at confusion over these socks, and why you’ve been given them. To make matters worse, suddenly the person is becoming inexplicably angry at you, saying you’re ungrateful for what they’ve done.

This can be how it feels for an autistic person when opening presents in the morning. They don’t know what they’re going to get, which is scary enough, but they’re expected to show gratitude for the gift, no matter what it is.

NOISE AND CROWDS

Autistic people process senses differently to neurotypical people. What may seem normal and fine to most people can be a complete nightmare for autistics.

I, for example, struggle to cope in busy town centres with lots of people, because I can’t filter out the noise without the aid of headphones or ear defenders, and because everyone is walking everywhere, I can’t figure out where people are going to be walking, which makes it incredibly difficult for me to walk around them.

The increased crowds of Christmas also come with a lot more visual things to process. Christmas stalls, Christmas adverts, posters, merchandise, clothes.

When I was younger, my mum would have to keep me on a harness because I was so distracted by everything around me that I couldn’t filter out, and it just kept causing me to freeze and/or walk slowly.

SOCIAL GATHERINGS

Take it from me when I say that unexpected social gatherings can be absolute hell for us! In addition to all the noise and crowds as mentioned above, we’re expected to converse and interact with a bunch of people we may not even know with, or feel comfortable talking to. For autistic people, it takes a lot of effort to be able to socialise in noisy areas with a lot of people, and we may feel completely exhausted by the end of it.

Additionally, a lot of autistic people find it hard to continue conversations, and maintain eye contact. If we have to focus on keeping a conversation, staring at someone’s eyes, and trying to filter out noise, it heightens the risk of an autistic meltdown.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Whilst Christmas can be a stressful time of year to autistic people, there are things you can do to help make things easier.

1. Allow them to open presents in their own time:

Don’t pressure them to open them if they’re not ready. Give them time to process it all, and let them choose!

2. If they prefer it this way, leave the presents unwrapped:

Sometimes an autistic person may not like having their gifts wrapped because they don’t know what’s under the paper. Remember, there’s no harm in leaving them unwrapped if your kid, partner or relative wishes, as they’ll still be getting the same gifts!

3. Don’t force them to eat food they’re not comfortable with:

Autistic people often like to have similar foods for each meal. If they’re not likely to eat what’s usually prepared for Christmas dinner, see if you can make something they’ll be more comfortable with

4. Allow them to escape to somewhere quiet in family gatherings:

Autistic people can find social situations very stressful, as mentioned above. Let them know they’re free to go somewhere quiet, or put on headphones, if they’ll be happier this way. It’s not worth putting them through this if they’re not going to be happy!

5. Be calm:

One of the most important things is to be calm and understanding. If they’re experiencing something that you don’t understand, don’t question it. Let them know they can trust to tell you if they’re facing any issues

6. Talk to them

This might seem like the most obvious step, but sometimes the best way to find out how to help the person is to ask them directly what would make things easier for them. Remember, not all autistic people are the same, and what may work for one autistic person, may not always work for another.