I knew almost nothing about autism until 2014. That was the year we discovered our youngest son was autistic. And as we proceeded through the diagnostic process and subsequent therapies with him, we realized I was autistic too.
I won’t delve into the difficulties of pursuing a diagnosis as an adult in this post (although I was fortunate to find a path*), but our son’s diagnosis, the realization that I was autistic, and the knowledge we gained since then has changed our lives for the better. We thank God for leading us down that path—bringing us closer to Him and to each other.
I hope sharing helps someone else, as other people’s stories have helped us.
1. Autism impacts the nervous system.
Autism is not visible from the outside and symptoms can vary in both range and severity. All have difficulties with communication and social interactions. Narrowly focused interests (which can change) and repetitive behaviors are common. Some also experience seizures and other physical ailments.
2. It’s not a phase.
Autism is a life-long, neurological disorder. While the cause of autism is still unclear and experts debate the exact inheritance pattern, it is clear there is a strong genetic basis for autism. Scientists and experts continue to study the collection of genes they believe are linked to it.
3. Autism is not specific to any one gender or ethnicity.
In the past, autism was believed to primarily affect white males. But historically girls and people of color were more likely to fall through the cracks. In fact, data now shows the gap in the prevalence of autism across ethnicities is actually small. And, while boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, the gap is not as wide as once thought.
4. Each person is different.
I prefer the analogy of Autism being it’s own country where all the people are autistic. People from the same country often share similar traits because they have a shared language, culture, and history. However, differences surface when you dive deeper into their regional, family, and individual backgrounds.
But unlike being from a different country, autism affects more than communication and behavior.
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”—Dr. Stephen Shore
5. Some don’t make eye contact, and some do.
While lack of eye contact is common for autistic people, some do make eye contact. At times, eye contact may even be persistent or intense.
6. The ability to speak does not mean the person doesn’t have difficulties communicating.
Some autistics are non-verbal, while others seem to speak well. But how well a person speaks does not mean they don’t have difficulties communicating, or that those who aren’t verbal can’t communicate.
The topic of communication is too complex and multifaceted for one blog post, but there is one item that is often misunderstood when it comes to autistic communication: echolalia.
Regardless of a person’s communication and social abilities, they likely understand more than they can communicate. Intelligence is not exclusive to those who can speak well.
7. Kind, direct communication is best.
Autistic communication styles and behaviors differ from non-autistics. The same behavior can have a different meaning for an autistic than for someone who is not autistic. To bridge the gap of understanding, direct communication is best. Be kind and clear when speaking to an autistic person. Visual aids can be helpful too. And, if you’re unsure about something, ask.
*Update: About four months after this was posted, I was formally diagnosed. Going through the process was challenging, but I gained a better understanding of where I fall on the spectrum. If you are considering pursuing a formal diagnosis, I recommend reading Cynthia Kim’s I Think I might be Autistic. It includes details and insights into the process of pursuing a diagnosis.