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How Can We Help Our Peers With Autism?

Understanding someone with autism.

Credit: Shutterstock/Black Salmon

The school environment can be a hard place for someone with autism; with a lack of routine and constant change, it can be overwhelming and difficult.

My brother is 9 years old and diagnosed with autism. In his primary school before his official diagnosis, he was often isolated and seen as the naughty child as he was unable to regulate in a classroom.

By making people more aware of what autism can present as with and without a diagnosis you can make all the difference.

How to understand someone with autism

Autism is a condition that impacts more than 700,000 people in the UK alone.

Some people with autism are seen differently because of their condition and this is not always positive.

Take the time to read this article and check out other helpful videos and websites to see what change you can make today.

Common social traits of autism

Someone with autism may struggle with communication. For example, a direct ask or question can be confusing or overwhelming. This can be the tone of voice and words itself. People with the condition can also struggle with understanding sarcasm and will take things more literally than others.

This is also seen when interpreting non-verbal communication such as gestures. Because of this people with autism may need extra time to process, conversations, questions and reading. A question such as, “What would you like to do today?” can be overwhelming.

Socializing is often difficult for people with autism, which is unavoidable in the school environment. Because of the difficulty in understanding social aspects, understanding how others feel, and their intentions can also be tricky.

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People with autism may struggle to express and read emotions. The difficulty surrounding emotions makes it harder to navigate socially, and this can have a severe impact on friendships.

Those with autism also tend to behave differently in social settings when they are uncomfortable or overwhelmed; however, these behaviours may be seen as strange or inappropriate which can make forming strong friendships trickier.

Another aspect of social interaction that can be difficult is that individuals may seek time to be alone and feel more comfortable being alone.

With the repetition side of behaviour, people with autism may repeat movements sometimes to calm themselves down when stressed or unintentionally. These movements can be hand movements such as flapping or moving a pen. The movements could also be rocking or using fidget toys.

Common emotional traits of autism

Another trait of autism that people may be less aware of is meltdowns and shutdowns.

A meltdown is when the individual becomes overwhelmed; this could be by a situation being out of their control which then creates a sense of distress, and they lose control of their behaviour. This is shown through shouting, screaming crying and sometimes lashing out physically through kicking and punching.

A shutdown appears less drastic however, it is still an extreme response to being overwhelmed. The individual will completely shut down and go quiet to regulate themselves again. This is just as mentally and physically exhausting for the individual.

Another common aspect of autism is having repetitive or restrictive behaviours. People with autism can become obsessed with routine. This could be needing to travel the same way to work or school every day at the same time or wearing and eating the same or very similar things. A change or slight disruption in this routine can cause distress for the individual.

An individual may want to listen to the same piece of music and become obsessed with it.

Mistakes people think about autism

Although there are common traits behind autism there are also a lot of common mistakes which severely impact those with the condition.

One huge mistake is that autism is just an individual acting up or misbehaving.

This viewpoint is seen towards children before they have an official diagnosis. Just because a child or even an adult cannot regulate their emotions does not mean they are naughty.

An individual may find the school and college surroundings harder, and their behaviour may come across as rude; however, it is actually them struggling to communicate their anxiety.

This also links to the second mistake, that autism is due to bad parenting. This is an entirely false and negative concept behind autism.

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Autism is a condition that cannot be helped, and parenting is not the cause. A supportive and educated parent would be a better environment for an individual with autism but that does not mean parents of an autistic individual are bad parents.

People with autism are also often viewed as either extremely intelligent or lacking intelligence. A person’s condition does not determine their knowledge base.

Another mistake behind autism is that it can be cured. Autism is not something that needs to be cured. Those who struggle need a supportive and positive surrounding and reinforcement so they can feel safe and able to succeed.

What you can do to help

Although there are multiple common mistakes behind the stigma surrounding autism the main factor is a lack of education. There is a huge lack of understanding of what autism is and how to support those who have autism.

Simple things such as using clear language, visual support, checking they understand, listening and being positive and supportive can make all the difference.

People with autism can feel different and pushed away, so by trying to understand and purposefully and positively make a difference, massive changes can be achieved.

There is a huge variety of free courses online for understanding autism which are a huge help in becoming more aware, and websites such as The National Autistic Society with lots of information.

If more people knew what autism is my brother would have had a better time in primary school. By taking on this information on autism and being more aware, you can make a big difference in someone’s life.

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Hiya! My name is Tasha, I am a journalism student at Bournemouth University. I love everything fashion and art and take a big pride in writing on these topics.

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