If an autistic child were to express his or her feelings to you, this is probably what he or she would say: “View my autism as a different ability rather than a disability. Realize that I may have limitations, but that does not mean I don’t have strengths. I may not be good at eye contact or conversation, but have you noticed that I don’t lie, cheat at games, or pass judgment on other people?”
We take all our five senses and our ability to perform daily tasks for granted. People with autism, however, have social impairments and often don’t have the intuition about others that many people take for granted. A famous autistic Temple Grandin described her inability to understand the social communication of people with normal neural development as akin to being an anthropologist on Mars. Temple Grandin is an American doctor of animal science, a professor at Colorado State University, a best-selling author, an autistic activist, a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, and an engineer. She is credited with creating the “hug box“, a device to calm those with autism. A 2010 biographical film was made on her life and she was also listed in the Time 100 list of the hundred most influential people in the world in the “Heroes” category.
Autistic infants do not react as much to social stimuli, they smile and look at others less often, and do not respond as much to their own name. Three-to-five-year-old autistic children may not approach people spontaneously, or communicate well nonverbally, or be able to respond to emotions as well.
Kids with high-functioning autism may get more lonely than other children. It’s not true that they prefer to be alone. They more often than not, get alienated, due to their differences. So when you interact with someone with autism, the first thing you need to understand is that they are wired differently, but that doesn’t mean they want to be excluded from group activities.
0.5% to 10 % of autistic individuals show unusual talents, such as the ability to memorize trivia or exhibit other attributes of prodigies. Such individuals are called autistic savants.
If you remember the movie Rainman starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, the latter plays an autistic savant. Hoffman is able to recall things extremely well, even if he has little understanding of what he recalls. His calculation skills are also legendary. He is however frightened by change and sticks to strict routines. He shows emotional expression only when he is distressed and generally avoids eye contact.
So if you come across an autistic individual in your life, keep in mind that things that may come easy to you might prove challenging to them, but this does not mean that they may not have very special skills, skills that might not come easy to you.
The key is to make an effort to communicate with them, make them feel included and loved and understood. Understanding is the first step to acceptance and acceptance is all anyone wants.