1. “Get” the label: We need to get past the label drama by offering a way to help people better understand what’s going on and ultimately support differences, not discriminate against them. It’s not the label of autism that’s the problem, rather, the fear of the unknown and preconceived notions we associate with the label. We must understand the challenges facing autism, which are first communication and sensory challenges which result in social skill deficits and behavioral challenges.
For example, because people on the spectrum can be very literal, don’t take what they say personally, as I described in the story about Jonny’s teacher, Mrs. Spaulding. Also, remember to watch out for areas on concern for example, bright lights, loud sounds and possibly uncomfortable clothing as it may cause discomfort leading to poor social and communication skills which affect relationships. Understand their lack of ability to process and express themselves. It’s not that they don’t feel; they just have trouble expressing themselves.
When my son was young, I used to get very hurt because he wouldn’t hug me goodbye when he went off to school. I didn’t think he had feelings or cared about me. One day right after he learned how to ride his bike he was darting down the street faster than a speeding bullet across a busy road, without even stopping to see if any cars were coming. He had no fear of anything! I ran up to him screaming at the top of my lungs “Jonny, what on earth are you doing? You could have been killed!” He came over to me with great big tears streaming down his cheeks. “You hurt my feelings he said” What? Up until then I never realized he really had feelings, or that he even knew what they were! Never underestimate what is going on inside their minds and their hearts. They feel a lot more than we give them credit for. It’s up to each of us to find out how they express themselves and enjoy the differences.
Not long after that incident, a little boy in the first grade was killed in a tragic accident. I hadn’t realized that Jonny thought he was very close to Michael, and that Michael was his best friend. Because Jonny loved video games and wasn’t really in touch with reality he said “I wish I had another life, so I could give it to Michael and bring him back”. Sometimes relationships to us aren’t necessarily the same to those on the spectrum. It doesn’t mean we have to fit them into our mold; rather we need to understand that this is okay.