How to Treat Someone with Autism
This is a post about autism, a reality that affects thousands of families. It’s about the fear of the unknown. The rejection of society. The puzzle of autism. The pain of thousands of mothers and fathers all over the world.
But above all, it’s about a child’s pain, misunderstanding, and abandonment. It’s about what’s lost and unsalvageable, it’s about the need to turn around and rethink our attitudes. It’s about inclusion, from the cradle to the grave.
This is a post written by the mother of a child with autism on her Facebook page “My Boy Blue.” In it, she identifies the child with the color blue, the color that we associate with autism to sensitize society to it. Why has it become a symbol? Because it represents what people and families with autism experience every day.
Blue is both bright like the ocean on a summer day and dark like stormy water. It’s a visual representation of the challenges that come with the diagnosis of autism.
“My Boy Blue” makes us all reflect
“When I set up this page I promised myself that this year I would make people understand autism. Every year people make out their goals or wishes for the year. My main wish for this year is to make the ‘judgers’ understand.
When you find out you are going to be a mom, you dream of holding your little baby for the first time, you dream of dressing them up, showing them off and obsessing over their every move. You dream of their first word, the first time they will clap their hands, the first time they wave goodbye and of course their first steps. All of the ‘normal’ things.
Well in my house these things are far from normal. Yes we had some of them, but they have disappeared. Words were lost, milestones missed and many tears were cried along the way. This is not ‘laziness’ on his part. It is not him being stubborn and it most certainly is not him acting up. My little boy is just like your child, he loves to dance, he loves to be cuddled, he cries when he falls, and he adores Mickey mouse. He is however ‘wired differently.’
The small things we take for granted every day are the hardest things for him to cope with. Different lights, sounds, smells or even the look of something can cause an overload that is too hard for an adult to deal with, let alone my little boy. ‘Normal things’ such as going shopping, playing in a kids playzone, or even a hair cut can be unbearable for him.
To the people that stare at him because he hums, join in with his little singsong, because in his eyes he is singing the best song in the world. To the mothers that pull their children away from him, you are creating the bullies of the future. Children don’t notice the differences they just want to play, let them.
To the lady that called him bold in the supermarket, try to look at things from his perspective. An overload of colors and sounds. People whizzing past you. You too would cry your eyes out if you could not tell anyone how you are feeling when it all gets too much.
To the friends that have disappeared, I hope this never knocks on your front door. I would not change my small man for the world and if you cannot understand him and how he works, then you do not deserve to be in his life in the first place.
Children with needs are the bravest, most courageous and most amazing little people in this world. They are fighting battles nobody knows and I guarantee not one adult would make it through half of the obstacles they do. Just because there is not a physical difference does not mean they are simply bold.
So this year I ask you to think before you judge, live a day in my small mans shoes and you will understand how much of a superhero he really is.”
How to understand someone with autism
Autism is a big mystery, which is why it’s almost socially disruptive. In 1996, Ángel Riviére wrote a short summary of what people with autism might ask of us. We break it down in bullet points below:
- Help me understand. Organize my world and make it easier for me to anticipate what’s going to happen. Give me order and structure, not chaos.
- Don’t get anxious around me, because it makes me anxious. Respect my rhythm. You’ll always be able to relate to me if you understand my needs and the special way I understand reality. Don’t worry, I’ll advance and develop more and more over time.
- Don’t talk to me too much or too quickly. Words are just air to you, but they can be a heavy weight to bear for me. They’re often not the best way to interact with me.
- Like other kids, like other adults, I like to enjoy things and do things well, although I don’t always manage it. Let me know somehow when I’ve done things well and help me to do them without failing. When I make too many mistakes, it’s the same as what happens to you: I aggravate myself and end up not letting myself do things.
- I need more order and predictability than you do. We have to negotiate what my rituals are so we can live together.
- It’s hard for me to understand the reason behind most of the things that people ask of me. Help me to understand. Try to ask me to do things that have a concrete and decipherable meaning for me. Don’t let me get bored or stay inactive.
- Don’t prod me too much. Sometimes, people are too unpredictable, noisy, and stimulating. Respect my space without leaving me alone.
- Nothing I do is against you. When I have a tantrum or hit you, if I break something or move too much, when it’s hard for me to pay attention or do what you ask, I’m not trying to hurt you. Since I struggle with understanding people’s intentions, don’t attribute bad intentions to me!
- My development isn’t ridiculous, although it’s not easy to understand. It has its own logic, and many of the behaviors that you call “abnormal” are just my special way of perceiving and responding to the world. Make an effort to understand me.
- Other people are too complicated. My world is not complex and closed off, it’s simple. Even though what I say might seem strange to you, my world is so open, so untainted by facades and lies, so genuinely open to others, that it can be hard to penetrate. I don’t live in an “empty fort,” I live in such a wide open plain that it can seem inaccessible. I’m much less complicated than who you consider normal people.
- Don’t always ask the same things of me or demand the same routines. You don’t have to make yourself autistic in order to help me! I’m the one with autism, not you!
We need to help people with autism protect themselves, since they see and hear too intensely. We must understand that they don’t intend to be rude, but they function in a way that doesn’t fit societal expectations.
People with autism aren’t empty shells, they’re people with personalities, feelings, and needs. Don’t ask them to be “normal.” Try to help them and not control them. Work from a place of hope so you can create a better world for them.