As we all know, cats are the common denominator of the internet – nay, of humanity – so in an attempt to educate folks who don’t regularly read autism blogs like this, I shall attempt to harness the power of the cat. Regular readers, feel free to skip this post. Unless you like cute cats.
1. Autism is a cat. It is not a defective dog.
It is perfectly content being a cat. You can try to put it on a leash and teach it to roll over, but you’re just going to get scratched.
2. The autism spectrum is a diverse and confusing range of symptoms, behaviors, challenges, and strengths.
Some individuals may flap their hands, or pass objects in front of their eyes, or stare at ceiling fans; and some may not do any of these things. Others may have trouble making eye contact or understanding social cues; and some may look you straight in the eye and say hello. Some may be able to tell you every imaginable statistic about your favorite baseball team; others may not be able to say a word. Some may look perfectly “normal” in public; others may remind you of caged animals.
3. Autism is invisible.
This is part of what makes navigating the world so complicated: if a kid sees a peer acting strangely, her impulse might be to laugh at him or exclude him from her game. If it’s obvious that there’s something atypical about him – like if he uses a wheelchair – that might trigger her to be more compassionate. But if the strangely-acting person looks “normal,” compassion might be harder to come by.
4. That oddly-behaving person is still human
He has all the same feelings as other people, and loves the people in his life and deserves to be treated with compassion. We’re trying to teach kids to be respectful of their peers with autism, but the broader message is that all of us should be respectful of all people.
5. Just because a person may not speak does not mean he does not hear, and feel, and understand.
So try talking TO him, not ABOUT him. And LISTEN to his body language.
6. Autism is an inherent part of who a person is.
Autism is as much a part of who a person is as his ethnicity or skin color or gender. And like all of those attributes, it is not inherently better or worse than any other way of being.
7. Sensory integration problems often plague individuals on the spectrum.
Imagine how you would react if every sound were amplified ten times, or if you could not sense where your own body was in space, or if even your softest clothes constantly grated on your skin. When an autistic person has a meltdown in public, it’s often because he can’t handle the sensory overload.
8. Along with challenges, there are strengths.
Children with autism may be developmentally delayed by a couple of years in some ways but operate at an age-appropriate – or advanced – level in other ways. In spite of whatever limitations they have, many individuals with autism are quite gifted in other areas.
9. Individuals on the spectrum are loved and are loving.
Autistic people are loved by their families and are capable of loving others and of living lives that are meaningful and satisfying. Life with autism can be as much a cause for celebration as any other life.