A Memoir on Autism

Today, I overheard a family arguing about a kid with autism on schooling options, making friends, and whatnots. There were a lot of stereotypes thrown around, and I felt a sudden urge to write a post. I could imagine this not being a standalone event.

I’m no expert, but I did work with a student with autism for two years in college.

There was a post by a local autism center to take some notes down for a peer student. When I met him, I realized he would need a lot more help than just someone who could write down the notes. The student I was taking the notes for became a friend.

I worked with David on classes related to reading and writing. He did fine in courses in math, sciences, and programming, he just needed to fill out some credits to graduate. The help first began with just writing down some notes from classes. They came a bit jumbled, and sometimes it took a lot more effort than others for him to sit through the entire class. Regurgitating the material either through writing assignments or on tests also came to be a challenge.

He also sometimes did not say hi to me on the streets or respond on emails. I could tell his intention was there. David just could not cannot communicate as effectively as he would like to. His eyes would glimmer when he could see that his ideas would translate into words. It was a fight within.

I could see that he just wanted to be understood, taken seriously as a college student.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex neurobehavioral condition characterized by various daily life challenges in social interaction, basic communication, repetitive behavior, speech, and nonverbal communication.

Autism is caused by a chemical disorder, a spectrum disorder that includes a range of linked conditions and each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn to think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. It depends upon the type of autism a person is influenced in.

David was just like any of us – sometimes needing more help than other days, sometimes really did not want to come to classes. Just like David, people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

The following tips will make daily life easier for both you and the person with ASD:

If he/she is an adult, treat him like one. This may seem intuitive, but it is also pivotally important to the learning process. Later I learned David had superior skills in programming and could code his own games he liked to play. Each person really does have different skillsets, and yours does not make superior. Watch your language.

Be consistent. Those with ASD have a hard time applying what they’ve learned in one setting (such as the therapist’s office or school) to others, including the home. For example, they may use sign language at school to communicate, but never think to do so at home. Creating consistency in environment is the best way to reinforce learning. It’s also important to be consistent in the way you interact and deal with challenging behaviors.

Stick to a schedule. People with ASD tend to do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine. Again, this goes back to the consistency they both need and crave. Set up a schedule with regular times. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum. If there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare for it in advance.

Connecting with a friend or someone with ASD can be challenging, but you don’t need to talk—or even touch—in order to communicate and bond. You communicate by the way you look at him/her, by the tone of your voice, your body language conveys a message. They may also be communicating with you, even if he or she never speaks. You just need to learn the language.