Know someone with Autism? Know the word but not what it means? Want to learn more? Welcome to AsIAm YouthHub, where you can find out more, ask questions and hear the stories of people with Autism
This cool poster brilliantly describes sensory processing…
We were recently sent a poster by Finn, Aged 10. Finn was recently diagnosed with Autism and wrote this brilliant poster to... Read More
Watch: Laragh & Joanne share their stories at National Autism Conference!
AsIAm recently held its first National Autism Conference, exploring the theme of "Empowering Potential". We were delighted... Read More
Five time-management tips for students: Could you use a strategy?
Do you find it hard to manage your time? With today's demands on our time in school, college and work it can be hard to... Read More
Step into the shoes of someone with Autism: Autism Experience Exhibition to visit Tallaght Stadium
AsIAm will be bringing our “Autism Experience” Exhibition to Tallaght Stadium on Thursday 19th January (1:00pm -... Read More
This cool poster brilliantly describes sensory processing…
We were recently sent a poster by Finn, Aged 10. Finn was recently diagnosed with Autism and wrote this brilliant poster to... Read More
Get down the Autism Experience Exhibition in Portlaoise
AsIAm will be bringing our “Autism Experience” Exhibition to the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel on Saturday 26th... Read More
Get down to the Autism Experience Exhibition in Ennis!
AsIAm will be bringing our "Autism Experience" Exhibition to the Temple Gate Hotel, Ennis on Thursday 20th (between 10am and... Read More
Tools and ideas to make your community more Autism-friendly
You will find the words "Autism-friendly" a lot throughout the website - but how can you put it into action? Everyone can... Read More
We often find people are so happy and interested to learn about Autism, once they are given the information.
There are lots of different ways you can do this but here are just some ideas:
AsYouCan Introduction Guide: We did a handy guide introducing Autism as part of our AsYouCan series as we feel the general public are an essential component of building an Autism-friendly society. You can get your copy, free of charge, here.
Our Videos: Browse the video section of this website – there are many great testimonies, stories and illustrative videos to help give the public a practical insight into Autism
AsIAm Secondary School Workshop: If you are referring to your school community, why not invite AsIAm along to give a Secondary School Workshop? Get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can organise this.
Organise an Event: Organise a fundraiser, information event or meeting in your local area to educate the public more about Autism. For advice on how to do this get in touch with email@example.com
Your Story: Often the most powerful tool for changing attitudes is people’s own stories. Why not consider sharing your experiences with others, if that is something you are comfortable doing – this will give people a really practical understanding of the condition and allow you to have your voice heard!
Telling your story isn’t always easy so its important you do this in consultation with those closest to you and in a way which is comfortable for you – remember you should only ever tell your story because you want to, not because you feel you have to explain yourself.
Businesses, by their definition, want as many customers as possible and want to ensure they stand out from their competitors, so customers keep coming back. Many also have a strong community ethos and are always keen to meet the needs of the community.
For all these reasons, it makes sense for businesses to try to be more Autism-friendly – as people with Autism and their families are a significant population in every community.
Small changes, can make a huge difference for people with Autism. In recent years some very good examples of this have been Autism-friendly screenings (lights up, sound down, able to move around, bring own food etc) in cinemas across Ireland and a recent initiative by some supermarkets to hold Autism-friendly shopping hours (no announcements, no moving of stock etc).
These very small changes not only help people with Autism but often lots of other groups of people too.
So, remember the customer is always right! Don’t be afraid to ask your local business to consider doing something to make things easier for people with Autism in your area. You will know better than anyone what is needed but our AsYouCan guides for businesses may give you and local businesses some ideas.
AsIAm is here to help any organisation which wants to get involved and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
Real inclusion means people can participate in all aspects of their community. This means it is really important that everyone has an understanding of Autism, not just professionals.
This includes voluntary organisations such as sports clubs or community groups. For so many people, being part of a local team or attending a local group is a major source of pride, social opportunities and enjoyment. They are the backbone of so many communities and so are a vital part of building an Autism-friendly community or society.
Many groups are led by really super people who would be very happy to make small changes, if they were just asked or understood why this was important. Examples of such changes might be:
- Providing visual or step by step instructions
- Making sure everyone in the club understood Autism
- Providing a person with as much information as possible to prepare for an event
- Ensuring there are quiet spaces to go to if a person is overwhelmed
Why not ask your club to learn more? We have a handbook for local organisations, which can be downloaded here.
Over the last number of years we have seen much greater public awareness of Autism. It is a word nearly everyone has heard at one stage or another, many people may know someone with Autism, while many others may know of fictional characters with the condition.
This is positive in that awareness is the first step to real inclusion for people with Autism. However a big challenge is many people still don’t fully understand Autism.
In other words lots of people have heard about it but many people cannot explain it or may not really grasp what the condition is or how it impacts on people’s lives. Many people may have a very clear picture of Autism in their head but may not realise that no two people with the condition are the same or that it is a Spectrum which affects different people in different ways.
Of course, this makes things harder for those with Autism as it means we can meet many barriers which people are not even aware of or are a result of people not understanding. The best way we can change this is by telling our stories and encouraging the public to learn more, realise why it is important to understand and not be afraid to ask questions.
That’s what we are here for!
There is a need for a whole- community approach when it comes to autism. A lot of young people will say that their community do not understand them. While people with autism struggle with social skills and anxiety, the general community needs to understand how autism affects people differently and about the wider autistic spectrum.
People with autism can often feel dis-empowered to speak about their autism and their experience of it. You can help YOUR community to have a working knowledge of autism so that people ay stop and think before they judge.
You might think that you are just one person, and how can you make your community become more aware. There is plenty that you can do. Take a look at a few of these ides:
When you go to join clubs and societies, ensure that there is an inclusive culture. You could direct the leaders to the AsIAm website on how to create the inclusive culture for all people, and all abilities to join in the activity.
You could also talk to your local business. Are they inclusive to people with autism and their families. You could direct them to website to help them with small adjustments they could make that will make the whole community inclusive of all people.
You can also spread the words. Spread the message through conversations, social media and pass on your knowledge to at least one person!
As Henry ford said “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Many people with autism encounter bullying at some point. There are some aspects of autism that leave the individual open to be bullied, such as not understanding who is a real friend and who is not. People with autism do want to make friends, but can often become disengaged because it can be challenging to know all of the social rules. When you join a club, it can often seem like everyone knows the rules, and you don’t. You feel uneasy until you are more comfortable with the activities and the people.
People with autism can often find it harder to make friends because they have to deal with the sensory environment, they might have attempted to socialize in a similar situation before and felt that they failed at it. There can also be a fear of misunderstanding the conversation. While this happens to everyone once in a while, imagine how stressful it would be if it happened every time you met someone new.
There can also be the fear of making an inappropriate comment’s without realizing. Think how many times you use sarcasm in a conversation. It could cause a lot of anxiety if the person was trying to use it in their conversations everyday but didn’t understand the ‘rules’ around it.
Small talk makes up a major part of socialising. Think whenever you meet a friend, you ask them how they are? What they did at the weekend? If you are talking to a stranger, you might discuss the weather. Someone with Autism, may find the rules around small talk difficult.
When you are talking to someone with autism, be aware that informal conversations can be difficult. You could try:
Asking questions in topics you think they might be interested in.
Include everyone in the conversation, especially at break times and at lunch.
Be aware break times and lunch times is probably where a lot of small talk will occur, so start up conversations with peers throughout the day, giving the person with autism different opportunities throughout the day to be involved in conversations.
As mentioned, socialising and knowing the social rules can be daunting for someone with Autism. When you start a conversation with someone, you have to think how well do you know them? Is it a boss, a colleague or a friend that you are talking to?
Someone with autism has often been taught how to have a conversation with rigid rules and prompts. This can make joining in conversations difficult, and requires a lot of practice and patience for that person. Be aware of moderating your own language to provide guidance, and also providing topics of conversation that you know will be of interest to everyone involved.
From as young as a baby you were learning how to take part in conversations. We almost take it for granted. You now don’t give it a second thought. You don’t need a reminder to comment when some tells you a story, or you don’t need to think how to engage in small talk with a stranger. You know the give- and-take nature of conversations. You know the level of noise and tone of voice that is appropriate for each situation. Now imagine, you have to think about all those rules every time you spoke to someone.
Some people with autism may not speak at all, or they may answer with one word answers. People will usually understand what you say but prefer to use alternative ways to communicate such as Picture Exchange Communication System or Sign Language. Some people with autism have excellent language skills but find having conversations difficult in new situations. So the next time someone answers your question with one word, you will understand all the challenges that person may have faced.
Research has shown that only 7% of emotional meaning is conveyed through the actual words that we speak. So, that means 93% is communicated through non-verbal communication. Roughly 55% is communicated through facial expressions, body language and gestures and 38% is communicated through tone of voice (Mehrabian, 1987). No wonder it is difficult to understand what we are saying!!
With 3,000 different meaningful facial expressions, it is difficult for someone to determine which emotion a person is feeling without knowing the context (am I crying because I won a race, or am I crying because I am sad?)
People with autism often don’t look at faces, and when they do it can be difficult to know the emotion that is connected to each expression. Is the person smiling at me because they are being sincere? Or is it that they are being sarcastic?
So next time you are talking to someone think about your gestures and body language and how difficult it would be for someone with Autism to unpick it all and understand what you are saying.
All teenagers begin to spend more of their spare time with their friends rather than their families. This is an exciting time for teenagers, however a person with autism may find this time stressful if they feel that they do not ‘fit in’. They may have spent the last few years trying to understand body language and social rules, and now all of that changes.
Think about the time that you mostly socialize with friends. It is the first thing in the morning before school or college. It is at lunch times, and at the end of the day. These are also really busy times. There is a lot of talking, a lot of people moving around. All of this can be overwhelming for someone with autism. The time that you are doing most of your socialising and relaxing is a time that can cause the most stress. This then may be a time that people remove themselves from the crowd and need time on their own for a while. Just remember that they will still want to be included, even if they spend some time away on their own.
When you are communicating with someone with Autism, be yourself. Remember that they are people first, and like to communicate and have something to say. Just remember to be aware of some communication challenges that someone may have to face.
Be patient and understanding. The person is taking the time to communicate, so take the time to hear what they have to say.
Don’t take offensive if the person asks you to clarify what you meant. Bear in mind understanding all the parts of language can be confusing for someone with Autism.
Don’t feel offended by the way someone communicates with you. It might seem that they are blunt or rude, but don’t be put off by their style of communicating.
It is ok if the person does not make eye contact all of the time during a conversation. They have a lot of other aspects of communication to remember other than just looking at your eyes.
When communicating, we have a tendency to touch the person’s arm, or their back. Be aware that to someone with autism this may cause anxiety if there is unexpected touch.
The same way that touch can be a sensory challenge, so can noise. Try not to shout or make unexpected loud noises.
Bear in mind that the person may be anxious when they are talking to you. A lot of people with Autism have experienced rejection. This can lead to the person feel insecure. Reassure the person by showing that you are listening and interested in what they have to say.
Try and find out the person’s sense of humour. It is a myth that people with autism do not have it. Some people love ‘slap-stick’ humour, some people have a good sense of humour. Find this out before you use your own!
The Golden Rule – Always think, and double check – Always double check that the person understands what you have said. Think could there be a communication problem which led to the person behaving in a certain way.
You can make it easier for people to socialise by making the whole environment more welcoming and encouraging. If you are inviting someone to join you or your group for a night out or a trip somewhere, don’t be put off if the person with autism refuses the first invitation. Leave the door open. Invite them each time, it may take several refusals until they may feel confident enough to join you.
Organise an activity that you know holds an interest for that person but that you can both enjoy. Ask what their interests are and work around that. They may find a cinema or a shopping centre difficult from a noise point of view, but ask them what they would like to do.
If someone tells you they have autism, it has taken a lot of courage and probably not a decision they took lightly. The person with autism will probably have told you so that you can understand them better. They are still the same person that you knew before, but maybe now you can understand why they act in a certain way. The person with autism may feel like they can be more relaxed around you, and they don’t have to hide any difficulties. So, if someone tells you they have autism, try to remember to give them time to talk, and listen to what they have to say. If you feel comfortable, the person may appreciate any questions that you that will help you to understand them better.
Try not to say ‘Im sorry’, ‘But you don’t look autistic’. Remember that every person with autism is different, so don’t compare with other people you know with autism.
Many people believe the myth that people with autism don’t want to socialize or to be with other people. A lot of people with autism do want to socialize, it is just that there are so many ‘rules’ that we have in our society. It can cause a huge amount of anxiety for someone with autism to learn these rules, and to feel comfortable socializing. Think about when you joined a club or a new group, it took a bit of time until you felt comfortable with the activities and the other people. There are several additional challenges that people with autism have to deal with to.
These can be:
The sensory environment
Having attempted to socialize in a similar situation before and feeling that they failed at it.
Misunderstanding the conversation
Fear of making an inappropriate comment without realizing it.
Wow! That is a big question and not one with a simple answer as Autism is a condition we are still learning about all of the time.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Autism as “a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterised by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”
That is very vague though and still does not really help us get a concrete understanding of the condition or its impact on those who live with it.
So here are some clear points:
- Cause: We still do not know what causes Autism, though there are many theories and much research underway. We do know that there is a genetic element and that Autism can often run in families. It is a condition people are born with, though don’t get diagnosed at birth with, you cannot develop the condition, nor does the condition go away – it is part of who the person is and how they think
- Type of Disability: Autism is a developmental condition (also called disorder) which places it in the same family of conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ADHD. People with Autism may also have other conditions such as an Intellectucal Disability, but this varies from person to person.
- Prevalence: Autism affects approximately 1 in 100 people in Ireland. It is a condition which affects both boys and girls, currently it is estimated that for every 1 girl diagnosed with Autism, there are 4 boys diagnosed – though research continues on whether the condition is more prevalent in boys or under-diagnosed in girls
- Challenges: People with Autism experience a range of challenges and different people have difficulties in different area. People with Autism find social communication, interaction and imagination difficult, often experience difficulties with sensory processing and often like routine or have repetitive behaviours.
- Strengths: Like everyone, people with Autism have strengths and challenges beyond their diagnosis. People with Autism can also have strengths because of the way they think as a result of having Autism. Such strengths include: an ability to focus intensely on areas of interest, creative thinking, attention to detail, creativity and a very clear sense of right/wrong, honesty and loyalty.
- Diagnosis: Autism is diagnosed differently to other conditions in that it cannot be detected during pregnancy or diagnosed using a medical examination. As a developmental condition, it may become evident as a child begins to develop or may only be diagnosed later in life. It is diagnosed by observing a person in a variety of settings and a series of tests led by a team made up of a Psychologist, Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist (and possibly others). Having some traits of Autism does not mean a person has Autism – Autism is diagnosed as other possibilities are ruled out and the challenges being experiences are significant enough to impact on a person’s ability to manage or interact with everyday life.
- Visible Signs: Autism is invisible. People with Autism do not necessarily look any different to anyone else, though some behaviours people with Autism engage in, such as stimming, may lead to a person standing out from others.
Our Description of Autism
We like to explain Autism as living in a world or a culture which is not really built with you in mind.
If you imagine what it would be like for you to be suddenly placed in a busy train station in China – where the environment is very busy and unfamiliar to you, where it is difficult to interact with other people due to language barrier, where you rely on people stating the obvious or providing signs to navigate or understand what seems obvious to others. If you can imagine the anxiety and stress this might cause, this gives you an insight into what life with Autism is like. The big difference is for a person with Autism the cultural barriers might be what is very day to day for you such as going to a supermarket, going out with friends or using public transport.
When talking about Autism you may hear people using different phrases to refer to those with the condition.
Aspergers Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Classical Autism, High-Functioning Autism or Atypical Autism are just some examples of this.
These are words which try to explain the experience of a certain cohort of those with the condition e.g people with Aspergers Syndrome would traditionally be those who did not experience speech delay and have average or above average intelligence.
In recent years however it has been recognised that no matter how many words you have, every person with Autism experiences the condition in a different way. While a person may be referred to as “high-functioning” they too may face areas where they find it very hard to manage. Equally, a person with “Classical Autism” may find some things very difficult to manage but this does not mean they can not cope well or be very talented in other areas.
For that reason, many people simply use the word “Autism” as everyone with the condition belongs to the one spectrum of experience and experiences similar challenges in different ways to varying degrees.
So instead of getting too caught up in the language, when you are meeting a person with Autism remember you are meeting an individual!
Yes! When society doesn’t fully understand something, often myths and mistruths fill the void.
Some of the myths about Autism come from out-dates or disproved science, other from common misconceptions and others from popular culture. Of course, some myths also come from those who try to make money by making up “therapies”, “supports” or “causes” for Autism without the appropriate qualifications or any basis in science.
It is as important to understand what isn’t true about Autism as what is true – check out our YLT Video on Mythbusters to see what we mean!
Many people with Autism engage in repetitive behaviours. These can be referred to as “self-stimulatory behaviours” but in our community they are often referred to as “stimming” for short.
Stimming is a repetitive physical or verbal action which a person with Autism does to regulate themselves. There is lots of research into the causes of stimming and people have slightly different ideas on what precisely stimming is and why people with Autism do it.
We want to help you understand it though using a simple analogy:
If you consider a computer and what happens when you download lots of files at once – it may slow down, it may freeze and then you may hear the fan going off in the computer. The fan cools the computer down, ensures it doesn’t overheat and helps the computer get back to normal.
In the same way, people with Autism are processing a huge amount of information constantly – from trying to read various social situations, through to all the activity in a sensory environment. The brain can get a little overwhelmed as a result and involuntarily a person with Autism will often begin to stim – this behaviour can look very different in different people from flapping hands to making a noise or running on tiptoes.
When a person with Autism stims it helps to relieve this overload, express how the person is feeling and restore concentration levels. While some people with Autism may need help managing their stimming, if they become over-dependent on it or it prevents them from taking part in day to day activities, many people will describe stimming as extremely relieving and an important self-regulation tool.
So when you see a person stim, avoid staring or drawing attention – its just a person doing what they need to do!
Some people with Autism are described as “non-verbal” though generally “non-speaking” is a much better description.
It is not fully known why some people with Autism do not speak.
Some people may be verbal but find it difficult to form sentences or use language in a functional, day to day manner. Other people with Autism may be able to use language in a written, typed or sign language form but not in the spoken manner. A person may be non-speaking or may develop speech later than other children. Additionally, some people with Autism may become non-speaking if they are experiencing a “meltdown” or are in a stressful situation
Just because a person does not speak, does not mean they don’t have anything to say. Many people with Autism use alternative communication systems such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and Lamh (a sign language for people with Autism) to communicate while others may have their own individual way of expressing themselves.
While not everyone can speak, we all have the capacity to reach out to one another!
When you are in an unfamiliar situation or are unsure what is going to happen in a social situation, you may well get anxious.
People with Autism experience the unknown, the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable on an ongoing basis this means that very day to day activities can cause a person to become very anxious or stressed.
This can be reduced by giving a person as much predictability as possible, reassuring the person and providing a quiet area for a person to go to if they need space.
People with Autism often find it very difficult to predict social situations – in other words to know how to behave, how to expect others to behave and what is likely to happen.
Additionally, many people with Autism find it hard to notice the subtle differences in social situations (e.g the difference between crying with happiness or crying with sadness)
This means that many day to day social situations can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for a person with Autism and so a lot of people with Autism try to limit the unknowns or unexpected in a social situation by sticking to a routine or keeping things the same.
Keeping things the same means less unpredictability which means less stress and anxiety. A sudden change in routine or plans can cause a person with Autism to become very stressed or anxious, not just because the plan has changed but because it leaves the person unsure what to expect next.
People with Autism have the same senses as everyone else, however the way the senses develop or work may be a little bit different.
People with Autism can be hyper or hypo sensitive to their surroundings at any given time. For some people this might mean noises, textures, smells, tastes or sights can be very overwhelming and difficult to process all at once. While others may need very strong noises, textures, smells tastes and sights to get the same imput as others may get from normal levels of sensory activity.
This also means people with Autism often have sensory inputs they like and find relaxing and those which are very hard to manage or even unbearable e.g a crying baby or the smell of perfume.
You might think “we all have things we dislikes” however this isn’t just something a person dislikes, rather it is something which makes it very hard for the person to focus on anything else or cope in their surroundings – think nails down a blackboard but only you can hear it.
All of this means, certain environments, such as crowded corridors or busy bars or restaurants, can be very difficult for a person with Autism to cope in or can be very exhausting
So be SENSEible guys
Not necessarily but possibly.
Autism often co-occurs with other condition.
Some people with Autism also have an intellectual disability. Other people may have another developmental conditions such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia or ADHD. People with Autism may also have epilepsy or experience bowel problems.
There is lots of ongoing research into this but on practical level it means that every person with Autism has very different experiences. Autism affects everyone differently to begin with. People with Autism also have personalities like everyone else – different strengths and different challenges, and as well as those two variables people with Autism may also be dealing with other conditions.
This is why it is so important not to stereotype but get to know each individual with Autism and their own needs and experiences.
Someone with Autism may talk about one subject a lot if it they are interested in it. It is not known why special interests or obsessions and autism tend to go together.
However, if a person is interested in a certain topic, they are either extremely interested in it or not interested in it at all. Also, when you are learning about a certain subject, such as space, you can learn concrete facts. The facts remain the same to everyone, it is not based on judgement. This can make a subject appealing to someone who has autism.
Being interested and knowledgeable about something can be a good thing. It could help the person direct the type of work they would like to do. However, sometimes it can be difficult if it takes up all of a person’s time and it is inhibiting them from making friends or distracting from work or college.