In this post today I want to highlight the beauty of Autism. I do not intend to downgrade the difficulties that autistic people and their families face as it definitely is not all sunshine and rainbows. Saying this however, it is not all bad. I believe it can be empowering for those of us in the Autism community to see the positives of our condition so that we can feel better about ourselves and accept ourselves as we are.
1. Stimming can be fun - Stimming stands for self-stimulatory behaviour, this is where we may have rhythmic movements or calming vocalisations that help with sensory processing. Stimming can include hand flapping, jumping up and down, rocking backwards and forwards, finger wringing and more, those listed are just some very common ones. Stimming can be described as a form of self-expression as it can be seen as autistic body language. How cool would it be to have your own expression of body language that most people don't have? In some cases it could feel quite isolating, but for some people it can be awesome to have such unique body language. Some of us may have 'happy stims' where we may stim a lot when we feel a positive emotion like excitement or joy, and sometimes stimming can amplify the positive feelings so we can make the most of our happiness. Stimming can also help us manage stress as it is said to release beta-endorphins, so when we stim freely it can improve our mental health and wellbeing.
2. Special interests - Now in some circumstances having an intense passion for a very specific topic may not come in handy. An example could be if we are in school when we are supposed to be learning physics, but it is so dull that we start focusing on our special interest instead. This may not be the most ideal situation as the teacher may not be very impressed and we may miss out on class notes. In some circumstances however, having such a passion for a topic can come in very handy indeed! First of all, if we are feeling stressed or anxious, we may find that becoming so easily absorbed in a topic of interest can give us a bit of a break and help us feel calm again. Another example of when it comes in handy is if there is a quiz where we are asked questions that have some relation to our special interest, we are likely to do very well on it, you will probably struggle to find someone who knows as much about a topic as an autistic person who has been completely absorbed in learning about this topic for years. It is also incredible how some people on the spectrum can have such expertise in a certain area that they can reel off countless facts on the topic.
Another brilliant aspect of the special interest phenomenon is that it could help us find our life purpose. I have a firm belief that everyone has a purpose in life and a calling which they can follow, but unfortunately not everyone finds it. Those of us who have special interests however, have so much passion that it is almost impossible to ignore this yearning to research a certain topic or follow a certain path. If we can find a way to use our special interest to help people, develop creativity or find a way to work in the sector - that is one of the most beautiful things. For example, a person with an 'obsession' about trains could get job at a train station, a person who focuses on the Victorian Era could get a job in a museum, someone with a special interest in psychology could use that to go into studying the subject and helping people, and a person with a special interest in nutrition could start a blog about it with the intention to make a difference etc. Although special interests may get in the way in some circumstances or may be judged as 'unhelpful', I do not believe that an autistic person should be discouraged from pursuing their special interest as it can bring them immense joy, help them flourish and you never know where following it will lead them…
3. We are able to go 'outside the box' and we don’t conform to social ‘norms’ - I think that this is a wonderful thing because those of us on the spectrum may do things that others may not do such as dance around a shop, roll around on the floor with our dog in public, give tons of compliments etc. These are things that most people may not do as they may not see it as 'socially appropriate' or may have been conditioned not to do these things, even if they may want to. Sometimes the way we challenge social norms can be a good thing as we can be ourselves and encourage others to do the same, showing that it's okay to do things differently. Now sometimes we may say or do things that are socially inappropriate, but there are other times when we may express our love to those around us and complement people in a way others probably wouldn't. If we see someone who looks nice in a shop, we may tell them when others may feel that it is awkward, if we think a nice thing about someone, we may just say it and shower them with compliments, and an autistic person who just wants to hug everyone may hug people as a greeting even if they hardly know them, this may be deemed as 'socially inappropriate' but it is actually just a beautiful expression of love and purity.
4. Noticing things that others do not - Some of us on the spectrum notice things such as intricate patterns that others may not detect and we may see the beauty in nature that can go unnoticed by others. This is a wonderful way of viewing the world.
5. Creativity - Those of us on the spectrum can sometimes be very creative. Due to our unique way of perceiving the world and ability to think outside the box, we may come up with very interesting ideas that can be used in creative endeavours. Some people may be mesmerised by certain colours and patterns, and some people may love certain textures, these are all things that could be used to cultivate artistic ability.
6. Non-judgemental - Unfortunately, many of us on the autism spectrum have been judged ourselves, but sometimes this means that we don’t want anyone to be made to feel the same way, so we treat people nicely. As well as this, we know that we are a little bit different to most people, so we are more accepting of others differences.
7. Resilient - Due to the struggles that often come with Autism, we have to find a way to keep going, this can allow us to develop resilience and not let anything anyone says stop us from being ourselves and not let difficulties hold us back if something can be done about them or if things can be done another way.
8. Imaginative - It is said that a lot of children on the spectrum don’t always play with toys or that they lack imagination, but this isn’t always true. The imagination of those of us with autism may just be different to the imagination of neurotypicals. Some of us with autism do not need toys to have fun, for we can use our imagination and see random objects as something we can use for play. For example, when I was younger I would line toys up which does not look very imaginative, but to me they were lining up to get ready for school. Another example is that I would spin things around, and to the outside observer this just looks as if it was giving me visual stimulation, which is correct, but it is more than that. I was imagining that the spinning was a fairground ride that lots of people were enjoying. I have many examples like this from my childhood, but the point is that even if something doesn’t seem imaginative, doesn’t mean that it isn’t. Many autistic people play in the same sort of way, but this is not a bad thing, to find a way to play that brings us so much joy that we never seem to get bored of it is amazing, but autistic people often can be imaginative enough to think of new ways to play, but why would we if our own original way brings us so much satisfaction?
9. Honest - Those of us with Autism are often refreshingly honest. We don’t want to lie so this means that if you ask us a question, you are likely to get the truth. Sometimes this is brutal honesty, so it could upset people, but other times you get a straight answer to a question and can trust us and know that we are not hiding anything.
10. Liking rules and routine - This may not always be a good thing depending on what the rules are and how rigid they are as that could cause issues with inflexibility, but sometimes we have rules in our mind such as ‘we must respect our boundaries’, ‘we must ask how the other person is’, ‘we must complement people’. Now perhaps these rules are just the result of trying to learn how to socialise as they don’t come to us naturally, but I can assure you with that our rigid ways of doing things and the little systems we have in our mind, once it is ingrained we will always be sure to follow these mental rules so that we can be as kind as possible and do the 'right thing'.
11. Embracing solitude - Most people are social creatures, but some of us on the autism spectrum are confused by socialisation and we may not see the point in going out with friends when we could be researching our special interest or working on our passion. As well as this, we tend to have a much lower ‘social battery’ so often need more alone time to recharge and we may find solace in this solitude. Being able to feel comfortable when on our own is a strength as we don't need anyone else to keep us entertained and our alone time can be great for researching, hyper focusing, coming up with new ideas and learning more about ourselves through introspection. Now of course, those of us with Autism do need connection just like everyone else, but we may find the usual social chit chat pointless, so we crave something deeper. We can enjoy our own company and when we meet someone whom we can have deep conversations with and who shares our interests, we can actually form quite a strong bond.
Unfortunately, sometimes the reason us autistic people spend time alone isn't because it is a choice, it may sometimes be because we have been ostracised, side-lined and teased so much that we withdraw from others. In this case, we end up learning to be with ourselves, but it may not actually be what the we want, so don’t assume that people with autism always want to be alone, sometimes people do want friends but struggle to connect with others.
12. We do our own thing - Sometimes when we are given rules and restrictions or are told to do something, we can go against this. This can cause many problems, but sometimes it can be a good thing because we don't conform and we do our own thing and can question why certain restrictions are in place, questioning the way society works can allow people to see different perspectives. We don't want to be controlled but this can sometimes be a good thing as it allows us to honour our freedom and be authentic.
I hope that considering some of these points can help people on the Autism spectrum feel more confident and develop more self acceptance. Of course, as I said before there are many difficulties that autistic people and their families may face. These include meltdowns that cause us to experience immense distress, co-occurring mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and OCD, being unable to articulate ourselves in a way that allows us to connect with others, being unable to do daily tasks such as dressing, toileting independently, reading, writing, talking, zipping up coats etc, having sensory overload and feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated out in public, frustration at struggling to do things and coming into contact with those who don’t understand can all be issues that those of us on the spectrum can face. The positives and struggles listed won’t apply to everyone on the autism spectrum, but everyone with Autism has some sort of struggle and I believe that there are always some positives.