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Learning Appropriate Social Interaction on the Spectrum

One of the main indications of autism is trouble with social interaction. Autism, or the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a condition with a wide array of symptoms, many of which manifest differently from person to person. Social interaction is a complex facet of human communication that is generally part of our DNA and develops naturally at an early age.

But for children on the spectrum, different factors hinder the proper development of the skills and instincts necessary to fluidly and easily communicate with others, make friends, pick up on social cues, understand certain abstract concepts like contextual humor, and more.

However, this breeds many myths and misconceptions, including the idea that children with autism are less compassionate or incapable of empathy, or that they cannot understand a joke. To the contrary, children with autism do display the capacity for empathy, but quite differently.

They may be more sensitive to certain cues than others. Some children with autism are quite gifted at making friends in an early stage of life but drop off once cues and conversations grow at too quick a pace. And while humor is difficult to understand on the spectrum, it can even play a role in teaching the skills that many other kids pick up naturally. In other words, children on the spectrum are not unable, they simply often need more time and training.

 

Why Are Social Interactions Challenging in ASD?

There are several theories, many of which stem from a greater understanding of what autism itself is. Some researchers posit that one aspect of autism is impaired connectivity in the brain.

Our mind relies on an effective and well-connected network of neurons, and problems with the way neurons in children with ASD connect might explain some symptoms of autism, including difficulty with context, executive functioning, and abstract thinking. Language skills may be significantly delayed in children on the spectrum because their brain doesn’t put 2 and 2 together as efficiently as it should, to put into simpler terms.

This can be discouraging to many kids, who might sense that they aren’t able to effectively communicate with their peers, either because they can’t always understand them, or because they aren’t being understood. Such incidents can lead to intentional isolation, and frustration and anxiety surrounding social interaction.

Another theory is that much of how we develop social skills relies on our innate ability to pick up conversational cues and subtle read-between-the-lines intentions from body language and eye contact. Research shows that children on the spectrum are aversive towards eye contact because it makes them far more anxious than it might an average child – the part of their brain responsible for the fear response lights up much more in response to eye contact than it might in most people, suggesting that children with autism have a more visceral negative reaction to eye contact, and general face contact, which can impair their development of crucial skills for social interaction.

There may be even more to it, but based on what we know, there are a variety of factors that inform a child’s challenges with social interaction while on the spectrum.

 

Do Kids on the Spectrum Want to Interact with Others?

Yes, they do. Many children on the spectrum indicate that they want to communicate, and even engage in attention-seeking behavior early on to vent their frustrations at wanting to be seen and heard, although without any understanding of how to clearly communicate what it is that they want to show or say.

Social development is a very important part of early childhood, and one that is often delayed in children on the spectrum for one reason or another. That does not mean students with autism want to avoid their classmates for any other reason than the fact that they may be too embarrassed to interact with them, or dread the anxiety that accompanies being unable to properly and competently communicate. Their peers may not be instinctually kind to erratic or strange behavior, which can make children with autism feel even further singled out.

 

Strategies for Teaching Key Social Skills

Key social skills include interpreting and catching certain cues, understanding context, developing crucial play skills such as sharing and taking turns, knowing what kind of body language to use to reflect certain moods, managing one’s emotions and avoiding outbursts, and much more. There are many ways to teach these skills, and it’s important to consult a professional therapist versed in applied behavior analysis (ABA) or a form of talk therapy when teaching social skills. ABA is a form of therapy that relies on a variety of methods to help children with autism model ‘normal’ behavior and better understand their peers. Examples of techniques used in ABA include:

  • Utilizing play to teach – like any other child, a child with autism often learns best when it is being taught through play.
  • Explaining subjects and concepts through a child’s hobbies and interests – paying attention can be difficult for some children with autism, so keeping them interested is important. If lessons are recontextualized in a child’s personal interests, they may remember them better.
  • Incorporating specific skills through roleplaying – roleplay and modeling can help provide mock experience for children to better understand physical and verbal communication than through video or visual aids.
  • Utilizing video-modelling or face-to-face modelling to teach body language and social cues – by mimicking others, children with autism can practice and form a habitual understanding of what certain gestures and phrases mean.
  • Working with teachers and peers to better incorporate a child on the spectrum into class activities – experience is still the best teacher, and children on the spectrum learn best through group therapy, from specialized therapy sessions to working with other students to better incorporate a child with ASD.

Children with ASD should ideally socialize with normally developing children as well as other children on the spectrum. Knowing they are not alone and meeting other children with similar struggles can be incredibly comforting and help foster a sense of solidarity, while play sessions and conversations with normally developing children are important to practicing skills learned through ABA and other methods.

 

Employing a Trilateral Approach 

With autism, repetition and education is important. Parents, teachers, and therapists need to work together to help a child with autism learn to function alongside their peers and make up for certain social deficiencies with extra training.

Many children with autism are exceptionally gifted in one way or another. Autism does not equal intellectual disability, but all cases of autism require ardent support in several key areas of early life. Children on the spectrum face a great many challenges, some of which may be summarized as a kind of difficulty in interpreting and managing the input provided by their environment.

Most children naturally learn to adapt to this input and use it fluently. Children on the spectrum can often be trained to do the same, but they need much more assistance and time.

That is why early intervention is critical. The earlier a child on the spectrum is identified, the earlier they can begin getting the help they need to better contextualize the world around them and learn to cope in a neurotypical world. It’s not easy, and it’s not 1:1, but the end goal of ABA and autism treatment is not to try and make a unique and wonderful child ‘more normal’, but to provide them with the means to function alongside others, and feel included.

More than just working with children, applied behavioral analysts also work with parents, teachers, and relatives. Not only do children on the spectrum need to adjust to the world around them, but their relatives and friends must make adjustments to understand what autism is, how to better communicate with a person on the spectrum, and how to properly educate others on the matter to avoid bullying and discrimination at school and elsewhere.

 

“High Functioning” Autism Doesn’t Mean It’s Easier

Autism has been on a rise for decades – statistically, at least. The reality is that we are slowly approaching a point in time where we finally have a more accurate understanding of just how prevalent autism really is, not just among predominantly white families with better socioeconomic standing and access to quality healthcare, but among all ethnicities and classes in the US.

Currently, an estimated 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), although that number may continue to rise as statistical gaps are eliminated, and diagnostic tools improve. Autism is a part of humanity, and one with a history much longer than most might realize. More than just a facet of modern society, autism is something we’ve ignored for generations, either out of misunderstanding or due to mislabeling, and we are just now coming to terms with the depth and scope of this diagnosis.

Yet, many old or inappropriate myths surrounding autism persist into the modern day: including the idea that some children with ‘high functioning’ autism require significantly less care, or that it’s easier to be ‘diagnosed’ with ‘HFA’.

 

The Misnomer of High Functioning Autism

High functioning autism is not a clinical term, or a real diagnosis. It is largely a colloquial term used to describe cases of autism without intellectual disability. And it is a misnomer. Children on the spectrum who might be off-handedly called ‘high functioning’ show normal levels of intelligence yet have all the other trappings of the autism spectrum disorder, including emotional outbursts, communication issues, and functional abilities.

Years prior to the inclusion of several different autism diagnoses under the umbrella term of ASD, different cases of high functioning autism were often diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome, a milder type of autism. Today, children diagnosed with ASD are assigned different levels of severity. But even mild autism needs serious support.

High functioning autism somehow implies that a child diagnosed with a less severe form of autism will be able to behave more ‘normally’, or even lead a ‘normal’ life with less support and fewer interventions. In some cases, the mislabeling of some individuals as high functioning has even led to dropped insurance coverage, and a harder time finding care.

Yet clinically, the research supports that the absence or presence of intellectual disability in children on the spectrum has no bearing on their functional ability. Children with high functioning autism still have an incredibly hard time doing many of the things their low-IQ peers struggle with, despite normal IQ levels. In other words, a child’s IQ is a poor metric for how well they will adapt to their autism symptoms, and the idea that some children are high functioning and thus have an easier time needs to go away.

 

Autism is Never Easy 

One thing that needs to be explicitly understood is that, when a child is diagnosed with a form of autism, they will not be neurotypical. Autism is not reversable or curable. But autism doesn’t really change what’s so fundamentally human about us all. Children and adults with autism are still people, although they might struggle with a different perception and sense of the world around them.

While there are certainly different levels of severity on the spectrum and some children require far more care than others – sometimes requiring care throughout their entire life – a child with a milder diagnosis will still need emotional and social support well into adulthood, and will still need the help of professional services to adjust to new and unknown environments, learn to navigate social cues, learn how to make friends at different ages, and differentiate appropriate from inappropriate behavior.

Many adults who were diagnosed with autism later in life due to their milder symptoms express regret at not receiving more care early on in life, when their condition was unknown and only led to emotional suffering, bullying, constant misunderstandings, and the feeling that they were negatively unique.

 

‘High Functioning’ Does Not Mean Low Support

Yes, children who do not have an intellectual disability may require less long-term support than peers who cannot ever be fully independent. But they still require early and intensive interventions to begin adapting to a neurotypical world as a child with autism. In other words, they still require long-term care. But on a different level.

Children with milder symptoms will have an easier time coping with their own ‘quirks’, but life will still be significantly harder for them without the appropriate support.

And in some ways, being high functioning can translate into having a harder time adapting. Sure, children who are ‘high functioning’ are more outwardly brilliant seem to be impressively talented, but the misconception that this somehow makes it easier for them to deal with their condition is a pervasive myth.

They still struggle with sensory issues, an inability to catch subtle social cues, problems with romance and employment, anxiety, depression, motivation, emotional outbursts, and functional ability (executive planning).  Many of these issues persist into adulthood – it’s just that some learn to mask them better than others. But they remain a source of anxiety and stress unless addressed properly, and ideally, early.

 

There’s A Reason It Isn’t Official 

There is no relevant modern-day literature that considers ‘high functioning autism’ a proper label for anyone on the spectrum. In fact, the opposite is true, as some researchers are calling onto people to junk the term entirely.

Even if we accept that some people on the spectrum have an easier time of certain tasks than others, it’s not a simple gradient. Some children show signs of intellectual disability yet seem to more easily make friends, while others are completely socially isolated, but perform well in terms of intellect and memory.

While autism is a spectrum, that doesn’t mean that being on one ‘end’ of the spectrum means having a mild measure of all symptoms, while the other ‘end’ struggles hopelessly in every regard. Every case is unique in how symptoms appear, and the severity with which they impact everyday functioning and behavior.

 

Early Intervention Is Always Best 

Regardless of how a child is diagnosed, all forms of autism need adequate and early support. An early intervention ensures that a child learns to cope with the differences between them and their peers, and better adjusts to the world around them.

Experienced applied behavior analysts don’t try to ‘cure’ a person’s autism, but instead try to find ways to help them function better in a framework they won’t intuitively understand.

Social Cues That Might Be Missed with Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed through a series of different symptoms, yet few are as recognizable or common as the symptoms of ASD relating to social dysfunction. It’s noted that cases of mild as well as severe autism often exhibit some form of social dysfunction, particularly in the realm of subtle, non-verbal communication.

When other children or adults fail to say things ‘plainly’ and try to convey meaning through subtext or certain gestures, it’s likely that the patient will misunderstand or completely miss the intended meaning.

There are several theories as to why this is, but it is important to stress that this ‘problem’ takes many forms and shapes, and that while some can cope with their troubles and develop the means to recognize and even understand many cues that might previously have been missed (particularly in milder cases of autism, or in those previously diagnosed with Asperger’s), many do not intuitively learn to cope with this difference in communicative skill, and only improve with early and repeated intervention.

To help better understand why a child on the spectrum might fail to pick up on social cues, it helps to understand what they are, and why they are important.

 

What Count as ‘Social Cues’? 

Social cues range from subtext in the tone of one’s voice, to the unwritten and ‘obvious’ social etiquette that can be most plainly seen in adolescents who develop cliques and a social hierarchy based on displays of dominance and shared interests. Just as most children would intuitively know not to pick a group of strangers to suddenly talk to, neurotypical children naturally develop the means to pick up on subtle changes in one’s voice or body language to catch a lie, understand sarcasm, or figure out that what’s being said is meant to be a secret.

Social cues can be very complicated to understand, as behavior that might be appropriate within a very specific context can be seen as wildly inappropriate in another context. For children with ASD, these very complex rules are often completely unspoken and unnatural, and at first, completely incomprehensible.

In general, social cues can be categorized as any non-verbal communication that is not previously codified or explained, as well as the implied etiquette surrounding certain situations. Take the practice of talking to strangers, for example. Within a certain context, it is perfectly normal to join a group of strangers and simply engage with them – for example, at invited parties, orientation day at school, or during certain off-duty hours at the bar. But within a different context, such behavior could be seen as ‘weird’ or ‘annoying’.

Similarly, a child or young adult on the spectrum might not pick up on subtle cues to stop talking about something, whether it’s something that was intended to only be held in confidence, or whether it’s simply a matter of speaking at length about a subject everyone else has lost interest in.

 

It’s Not Just Non-Verbal

When it comes to verbal communication, similar issues occur. Different cases of autism exhibit wildly different issues, but a common thread is a lack of understanding for pragmatics (how the use of language changes based on context, such as using a different tone with a teacher than with a friend, or an indoor voice versus a play voice) and prosody (the tempo and rhythm of speech, including concepts such as intonation, emphasis, and varying pitches). Just as children with autism can have a hard time knowing how to speak appropriately, they often miss on non-verbal cues by others telling them how to behave.

This is not a simple issue, and it’s not an issue entirely to blame on the diagnosis of autism. While language issues and missed cues can be frustrating to neurotypical individuals and many cues can be taught with enough practice, depending on the severity of a person’s condition, more can be done to help peers of autistic children learn to understand and accept their peer’s differences, and in turn help them better understand what is expected or wanted of them within a given situation.

 

Why Autism Struggles with Social Cues 

There are different theories that can help explain why social cues, body language, and non-verbal communication are so complex for children on the spectrum, but these explanations do little to explain why autism often struggles with other forms of social communication and the complexities of language. In general, one theory on the nature of missing non-verbal cues involves the natural inclination among children with autism to avoid eye and facial contact.

While we teach our children that it’s polite to look at another person when they are speaking to you, for children on the spectrum, doing so is incredibly uncomfortable and feels threatening. Research indicates that deficits in the ability to recognize expressions among patients with ASD may link to a heightened response.

Although most people learn to read faces intuitively and become ‘experts’ in recognizing cues during normal conversation, people on the spectrum avoid looking at the face as an adaptive strategy, due to increased activity in the amygdala. Put plainly, they are more likely to be agitated and to experience feelings of anxiety when making eye contact. This is because making eye contact is perceived as threatening in the brain, and while this is ‘overcome’ in most people depending on the context of the situation (eye contact is still socially threatening in many situations), people with ASD have a heightened reaction to direct eye contact.

Presumably, this cascades into a long series of other problems with missing facial cues, expressions, and gestures, because our ability to naturally intuit what another person is implying non-verbally often relies on a complete picture of their face. There are also hints that it’s a cyclical issue, wherein problems with facial recognition and processing lead to poorer social interactions, which further cause one to avert from social interaction and facial processing, deepening the issue.

 

Can Children with Autism Learn to Recognize Social Cues?

Methods of training facial recognition in people with other disorders exist but have not been applied in autism treatment. However, teaching children on the spectrum to try and make eye contact is often a part of applied behavior analysis (ABA), as part of a greater series of interventions aimed at helping people with ASD develop the skills to better pick up on social cues. In the future, there may be a place of ‘face training’ in children and adults with ASD who have problems with social communication.

However, ABA is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Some children respond better than others, and the rate of one’s progress is entirely subjective. Research shows that earlier intervention leads to better overall progress, and more lasting progress.

Why Is Applied Behavior Analysis Helpful for Autism Treatment?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that affects children at an early age, causing developmental issues, as well as physical symptoms such as epilepsy and gastrointestinal discomfort.

While autism can be linked to several potential factors, including prenatal viral infections and other risk factors, it is understood to be largely hereditary. As we have learned much about how the disorder can come to be, we have also learned of many ways to address and treat autism through early intervention.

 

Autism Treatment Timeline

To recall the early days of autism research and treatment is to recall a grim and dark picture. Before autism was identified as a separate diagnosis, it was mistaken for schizophrenia, and treatments were very limited in scope and effectiveness. Early treatments included restricted diets and shock therapy.

Although autism was not formally recognized in any diagnostic manual until 1980, the term originated in 1911, and the discovery of a link between autistic behavior and gastrointestinal symptoms dates back to the 1920s. In the 1940s, autism was characterized as a social disorder, and Hans Asperger discovered a different form of autism (the discovery of which later gave way to the concept of a spectrum of symptoms and degrees of severity).

Other theories emerged over time, positing that autism was the result of emotionally withdrawn parents (refrigerator mother theory), and that treatment should involve forcing eye contact and intense hugging to simulate bonding (a deeply flawed and dangerous approach).

It wasn’t until the 70s that autism was discovered to be partly hereditary, and over the years, a more complex definition of the autism spectrum emerged as a neurological condition with behavioral and physical symptoms. Today’s standard in autism treatment is applied behavior analysis (ABA), which was first coined and developed by Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas.

Lovaas developed ABA throughout the 60s and 70s and was known as a pioneer in behavioral treatment after publishing his article, Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children, in 1987. However, while Lovaas started ABA, the standards and intentions behind the therapy have evolved since moved on from his original methology. Despite effective results, many of Lovaas methods were questionable: some included the use of aversive therapies, such as shouting, shock therapy, foul odors and more to coerce children into avoiding ‘bad’ behavior.

Today, ABA continues to take its original core tenet to heart, and Lovaas techniques have been expanded on considerably without resorting to cruelty.

 

What is Applied Behavior Analysis? 

Broadly defined, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a system of therapeutic methods aimed at helping patients identify better ways to interact with their environment. Today’s ABA methods emphasize a naturalistic approach, prioritizing techniques that teach children to interact with others appropriately through play and games. ABA therapists have moved on from face-to-face forced behavioral changes, and taken things to the play mat, where children lacking key skills and an understanding for social cues are taught to recognize these in their peers and behave accordingly.

Historically, ABA relied on repetitive drills to teach basic key skills, including polite conversation and behavior. Many ABA therapists have abandoned these drills in favor of a more patient-centric approach that caters to each individual child, based on their needs, weaknesses, and abilities.

The methods used change on a case-by-case basis, with a similar framework. ABA is typically applied anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week, depending on a child’s age and the severity of their symptoms. A focus is placed on teaching communication skills and functional skills, from communicating wants and wishes, to motor function. ABA leads children to reduce or stop tantrums and self-harm behavior, focus better at school, communicate more with others, and communicate more effectively.

ABA does not work for all children with autism and has its limitations. However, it is often cited to be the gold standard in autism treatment and is currently recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the US Surgeon General as the evidence-based best practice treatment for autism.

 

What’s the Evidence on Applied Behavior Analysis?

There is research giving credence to other treatments and therapies for autism. However, what applied behavior analysis has is a greater bulk of quality studies. These are studies that correspond to the gold standard of empirical research, the randomized trial. However, that does not mean that there is an overwhelming amount of convincing evidence supporting applied behavior analysis as the current best possible treatment of autism. It’s simply the one therapeutic method with the most current evidence-based backing.

ABA has come a long way from the approach that Lovaas first taught, and there have been many variations of ABA that have become useful and well-studied, most notably pivotal response training, and the Early Start Denver Model. Both are play-based models that focus on interactivity, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach focused on drilling specific behaviors and eliminating unwanted behavior. Both have quality research backing their efficacy.

This does not mean applied behavior analysis will address all of your child’s needs and issues. And it does not mean that applied behavior analysis ‘fixes’ or ‘cures’ autism. This is not what modern-day ABA therapists should seek to do. If you are considering a therapist for your child, it is important to ensure that they are board-certified by the BACB as a board-certified behavioral analyst, and that their genuine intentions are not to train your child to avoid expressing themselves, but to learn how to effectively communicate with others, and develop the skills needed to live and learn more independently.

 

Limited Options and Aversive Techniques

There are two main issues that critics address when speaking about ABA: the first is that some believe ABA has unfairly monopolized autism treatment, communicating to government agencies and health bodies that it is the only effective form of treatment for autism.

In recent years, different associations have called to ask for insurance providers and government agencies to recognize the work being done in other fields to help treat and therapeutically address autism, outside of ABA or pharmacology.

The argument is that patients with ASD and parents of children the spectrum are customers, and government intervention is needed to help promote consumer choice and not limit the options that parents have regarding the treatment of their children’s ASD, as some states only offer insurance coverage for ABA. Some cases of autism are addressed through

The second issue is that the history of ABA highlighted the use of aversive techniques to address unwanted behavior, and some therapists advocate for the continued use of negative reinforcement to stop children on the spectrum from behaving ‘badly’. This approach is unethical, and ineffective, and ranged from shouting a child down to utilizing aversive electric shocks.

Many defenders of ABA argue, and rightly so, that this is no longer the norm. However, adults on the spectrum with poor experiences with ABA argue that it continues to be a problem in some cases.

Parents need to be aware of their therapist’s reputation and techniques and work closely with their child’s therapist to ensure that they feel comfortable with the way their child’s condition is being addressed. ABA has become a framework to define many effective treatment methods, including pivotal response training, ESDM, and early intensive behavioral intervention.

ABA is not about making your child fit into society and reject their autism. It is not about making them feel ‘normal’. It is about helping them better function in a world that caters to being neurotypical, helping them understand what they might not otherwise understand, and helping them learn how to better communicate their needs with others so as to make their way through the world. It’s a long process that takes years, and early intervention leads to the best results.

How to Better Connect with Your Child with Autism

Autism, or the autism spectrum disorder, is a condition that is usually diagnosed early in a child’s life and continues throughout childhood and adulthood. It is a neuro-developmental condition with a cause that is not easy to pinpoint, with factors including genetics, infections, and chemical exposure. In simpler, broader terms, autism is caused by radically different wiring in a child’s brain.

The result can be extremely varied, hence the autism spectrum. Symptoms and overall severity ranges from mild to very severe, with some children requiring full-time care, while others can learn to be independent over time, with the proper intervention and right tools. In the past, autism was split into different diagnoses, including Asperger syndrome. However, over the years, researchers have come to understand that symptoms and conditions are far too varied for individuals to fit into specific diagnoses, and thus, the spectrum was born.

For many parents, communicating with a child on the spectrum can be very difficult. While autism expresses itself very differently from case to case, many children have a hard time communicating effectively, or at all. This can lead to much frustration and disappointment as requests and wishes would go unheard, and parents feel inadequate and lost. To better connect with your child, you have to start at the beginning.

 

Learn More About ASD 

Autism affects roughly one in 59 children in the US alone, according to the CDC. While autism exists on a spectrum, it can be broadly defined as a developmental condition. Autism is not the same as an intellectual disability or a learning disability. However, children on the spectrum may struggle with multiple different conditions, including other disabilities.

Unlike a learning disability (like dyslexia) or an intellectual disability, autism is best defined by how a child struggles to interact with its environment.

Children on the spectrum often have trouble with social interactions, subtle cues, complex or abstract thinking (including problem solving and planning), sensory problems (feeling discomfort at a sound, smell, or even sight), and physical medical issues that are more common among children with autism, including GI disorders and epilepsy.

A child’s ability to think, learn, and interact may be extremely poor, but it could also be very advanced. Children on the spectrum are sometimes referred to as ‘low-functioning’ or ‘high-functioning’, but a more apt description would be to explain that children sometimes show low or high functioning in various markers of autism, and that, based roughly on the severity of their condition, they may develop extraordinary skills in some aspects, or struggle more than their peers in others.

Above all, caring for a child with ASD requires patience. It’s a tough condition to live with, and children with autism can feel the pressure around them, even if they don’t outwardly show it – more so than their peers, they experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, often at least partially as a result of their condition and the stigma it carries.

 

Work with an Applied Behavior Analyst

In any case of autism, it should be a given to work with a professional and start interventions and treatment early on. With proper care, a young child with autism can learn to overcome difficulties and challenges that would otherwise cement themselves and become harder to deal with in the future. Applied behavior analysis is a common form of therapy used to treat children and adults on the spectrum, specifically targeting ‘unwanted’ behaviors and helping children and adults change these behaviors over time.

It’s important to work with an applied behavior analyst, because the work they do does not always translate into all aspects of a patient’s life. Even as they make progress together, a child with autism may not immediately understand that what they’re learning to do at therapy is a rule that should also be followed at home, or at school.

By coordinating with a specialist and your child’s school and teachers, you can ensure that the positive lessons they are learning are being constantly and consistently reinforced, with a better chance of sticking in the long-term.

 

Don’t Expect Enthusiastic Reactions

One of the things parents may have a hard time getting used to is the lack of enthusiasm or indication of joy on a child’s face in certain situations. While it’s a common myth that people on the spectrum cannot experience emotions, or are less emotional, it’s just that: a myth. Rather than being less emotional, children on the spectrum can sometimes be less emotive.

Others can be very emotive indeed, regularly lashing out and having problems with aggression, and how to channel it. But in some cases, children may experience joy but describe it only in a flat voice, with no facial indication of happiness. This does not mean they are being sarcastic or unenthused, but they simply may not show it. It helps to ask your child to tell you how they feel, if you are unsure.

 

Be Particular with Your Language

Metaphors and sarcastic humor may be initially lost on your child, even as they grow older. Some kids do develop an understanding for certain idioms and grasp humorous concepts such as irony, sarcasm, and comedic timing, but others require much more straightforward language. Avoid using terms that might confuse your child when communicating and keep things simple.

 

Watch Carefully for their Interests

It can be very difficult to connect with a child that does not communicate very well, but straight one-on-one communication is only one of many ways to connect with a person. Another would be through play, which is particularly effective in children. The key, however, is to find out what your child likes to do. Keep a careful watch on what interests them the most and make a point of becoming invested in that as well.

Some parents try to get their autistic children interested in their own hobbies, which may or may not work. However, when your child develops a hobby far removed from any of your own, you should do your best to learn more about it and foster their interest. Not only can it be a great way for them to simply have fun and be a kid, but children learn best through interests, and knowing what your child likes can be a great help later on, as they are learning different concepts, and their hobbies can become vehicles for them to better understand the world around them.

 

Introduce Changes Slowly & Be Patient

Patience is very important when connecting with a child on the spectrum. Changes cannot be introduced quickly, and any sudden change to a child’s routine or schedule can and will be met with resistance, and at times, frustration. However, that doesn’t mean parents should let their routines stagnate.

While it’s okay to take things at your child’s pace, it is your job to push them to learn new things and explore their boundaries, more so than they otherwise would. It is normal for children to yearn to grow and constantly exercise curiosity, but these traits may be difficult for some children on the spectrum.

 

Navigating the Teen Years with Autism

Puberty is a tremendously difficult time for any child, but it can be several times more challenging for a child with autism spectrum disorder. Navigating the teen years on the spectrum is certainly no simple task, and can come at a very inopportune time – for many parents, puberty may be the time when they feel they have finally figured out their child’s needs and behaviors, only for everything to change and shift drastically.

Getting through the teen years is challenge enough, but the goal should be to help your teen thrive despite their condition. Growing up and becoming a teenager can be a wonderful thing, although it starts off as scary. To tackle the oncoming growing pains, it will be important to heavily stress coordination and cooperation – between you, your child, their teachers, their therapist, and their doctors.

 

Sexuality and Physical Changes

The first and most obvious change as your child enters puberty is their growth, in more ways than one. Girls enter puberty sooner than boys do, and there is no fixed age for when this occurs for either sex – some kids start sooner than others. You are likely familiar with the various changes that occur when a child reaches physical maturity, but your child won’t be.

When it’s obvious that puberty is beginning (pubic hair growth, breast growth in girls and penis growth in boys), it is important to regularly sit down with your child and walk them through the changes they are experiencing and will experience in the near future, including changes in voice pitch, height, facial hair, menstruation, and more.

Explain how and why girls and boys develop differently, and how puberty will be linked to a number of changes both socially and sexually. As awkward as it might be for you as a parent, it’s important that your child understands above all else that what they’re going through is perfectly normal, and that everyone struggles with these changes. The last thing they need is to think themselves strange because of these new and sudden urges and feelings.

Masturbation will be an important topic in the years to come, especially for children on the spectrum. It’s normal for children to explore their bodies as they enter puberty (and before that, in some cases), but children on the spectrum may have a harder time picking up on the fact that it isn’t appropriate to masturbate in certain places and under certain conditions.

If you know or suspect that your child has begun masturbating, make sure they understand that this is something they should only do in private, and that it is not appropriate behavior for anywhere public, or even other parts of the home.

 

A Tough Transition in School 

As your child enters junior high and high school, their curriculum will likely shift towards tougher assignments, more complex schoolwork, and a greater emphasis on essay writing, abstract thinking, and group projects.

They will be tasked to do things they have never done in elementary school and will come across less work that requires rote memorization, and more work centered around improving and testing critical thinking, problem solving, and troubleshooting. These can be very difficult and complex tasks for someone on the spectrum.

While it’s a tough transition for everyone, children on the spectrum typically have an easier time memorizing things and a harder time grasping more abstract concepts, which means they may suddenly drop below their peers in grades. This can be a major blow to their self-esteem and understanding of how things are. Changes are always difficult for children on the spectrum, but they can be particularly traumatic if they are very negative changes.

Talk to your child’s school and teachers and ask about programs or opportunities for your child to get extra schooling and arrange for a tutor if they are having trouble in school. Your child will be able to understand difficult concepts and learn just as much as their peers do, but it may take more time and a different approach.

 

Hygiene and Grooming

With the shift to high school begin several shifts in terms of social etiquette and basic expectations. One simple rule is to smell good and look neat. For children on the spectrum, particularly if they struggle with strong sensory sensitivity issues, this can be a major problem.

They may not like or want to shower or bathe regularly and may try to seek ways to avoid using deodorant and various other hygiene products. Boys will have to start shaving and using face washes to avoid or reduce acne, while girls will have to begin wearing bras, and learning about different feminine hygiene products.

Sometimes, being on the spectrum means showing less of an interest in what your peers are doing. As such, it can be up you, the parents, to begin informing your teen on the necessities and importance of using hygiene products as one reaches physical maturity. Explain to your teen how the human body changes and begins to excrete stronger smells over time, and how social norms require a certain level of hygiene to avoid isolation and clashes.

 

Complicated Hierarchies

Social expectations and norms will become perhaps the hardest concept to grasp and adjust to for your teen, especially as things can change very drastically and very quickly from the transition into high school. Teens begin to form cliques, and bullying can get even harsher than it previously was. It may become harder for your teen to find a way to make friends, as they might not share any common interests with their classmates and can no longer rely on parent-arranged playdates as a way to develop social bonds and practice social interaction.

Consider helping your teen express their interests and teaching them how to communicate what they like to other students, to make friends. If they are into any elements of pop culture, such as certain movies or video games, they can use that as a way to begin sharing common interests with other people.

Now might also be a good time to encourage your teen to try various extracurricular activities, and visit different school clubs to get an idea of where they might want to fit in. Don’t write off any hobby or interest – children on the spectrum can have wide interests just as much as anyone else, including in sports.

 

Dating

Perhaps the most complex change for a teen on the spectrum will be the inclusion of romantic and sexual feelings in their life. They might not understand what these feelings are or where they’re coming from and need guidance. The world of dating is all about subtlety, small cues, and the ability to intuit things such as interest and intent.

For someone who does much better with a straightforward and direct approach, this can be very difficult. Your teen’s date might misunderstand their lack of social skills as a lack of interest. Helping them understand how to pick up on cues of the opposite sex and navigate their way to and through a date can be important, especially in the later years of puberty.

Everyone goes through puberty. And everyone grows up. Some take longer than others, some start later rather than sooner, and some struggle more than the rest. These are things that cannot be controlled, or ‘solved’. Problems will occur, it will be hard, and you will need help (as will your teen, especially).

While these tips are meant to help, it will be important to brace yourself for tough days, dark days, sad days, and days when you can’t help but feel like you are at your wit’s end. When these days occur, look to others for help, as well. You should never be in this alone, and neither should your teen. With proper planning, support, and preparation, your child will make a successful transition into their teen years, and well into adulthood.

 

Approaching Discipline with Your Child on the Spectrum

There comes a time for every parent when it’s critical to discipline a child. We’ve all experienced a parent’s discipline at one point or another and know that there are many ways to address bad behavior and course correct – but some methods are more effective than others, in more ways than one.

Some parents are quick to anger and resort to physical discipline more often than any other kind – others swear off physical discipline entirely, relying instead on other punishments. Some parents don’t find that punishments work to begin with, and instead try to utilize positive reinforcement to teach their children which behaviors are wanted, and which are not.

Regardless of how you were disciplined or what your ideas of discipline are, the topic of discipline changes drastically within the context of autism. Children on the spectrum do not respond in the same way that other children might to various disciplinary approaches, which can complicate things drastically.

To understand how to best discipline your child on the spectrum and avoid bad behavior, it’s important to understand how autism changes what your child understands when confronted with something they’ve done wrong.

 

What to Expect with ASD

It’s difficult to describe what to expect in any given case of ASD, because they can be drastically different. Autism spectrum disorder describes a wide variety of cases that exhibit any number of different symptoms under the umbrella term of autism, with varying degrees of severity. That’s why it’s difficult to split autism into countless different diagnoses, but it’s also difficult to give parents an understanding of what to expect without more context for their specific case.

In most cases, being on the spectrum can mean that a child will have a much more limited understanding of what it is that their parents want from them whenever they are being disciplined or punished. Spanking a child for bad behavior quickly sends the message that they need to stop doing what they were doing. This is only a short-term fix, and does nothing to address the behavior itself, but it does halt the behavior temporarily.

However, in a child with autism, this can backfire even more terribly than it might in neurotypical children, because children on the spectrum may not understand the implied wish behind the pain – whereas other children might get the hint on what they are meant to do instead, children on the spectrum will often be left confused and directionless, unsure of what to do instead.

In that vein, discipline for a child with autism needs to address the fact that, in most cases, one needs to be more direct and straight-forward in what constitutes as wanted behavior, giving examples of good behavior instead of simply punishing bad behavior. Consistency and patience are key here as well, as children on the spectrum may have a hard time transferring rules over several settings – while they might learn not to behave a certain way at home, they may not understand that the same rule applies in school, and vice versa. More patience is needed when disciplining and teaching a child on the spectrum. Here are a few tips to help parents better deal with bad behavior in children on the spectrum.

 

1. Opt for Positive Discipline

Children on the spectrum react well to positive discipline – this is a form of discipline that emphasizes rewarding correct behavior rather than simply punishing bad behavior.

It emphasizes that the point of discipline is to direct a child towards what is wanted or appropriate, in effect teaching them how to behave. One way of utilizing positive discipline is to provide privileges or tokens in exchange for good behavior – extra time watching a show or playing a game, or a sticker every day, or toy every month.

 

2. Be Clear with What You Want

Sending a clear and consistent message is very important when teaching a child on the spectrum. Repetition can help them learn, and parents and educators need to work together to ensure that lessons in behavior learned both at home and in school carry over across environments.

 

3. Recognize Danger and Prioritize Safety

Time outs do little to improve behavior in children on the spectrum, but when their misbehavior is endangering them or other children, your first priority is always to take them out of that situation for their safety or the safety of others.

In some cases, your child may recognize that this is a good way to get out of a situation they are uncomfortable with – and that is not a great takeaway. It reinforces the idea that a dangerous tantrum can get them out of anything unpleasant.

If you find your child developing such a pattern, it may be time to seek a professional’s help to address and train better behavior through a method that accounts for a child’s autism.

 

4. Children Will Model Behavior

Children will model those around them – this is especially true for children on the spectrum. It may be easier for you to control your child’s behavior by showing them how you would like them to behave, and consistently repeating that behavior alongside them. It’s all very ‘do as I do’, rather than simply ‘do as I say’.

 

Get a Professional’s Help

If needed, consider contacting a professional. Applied behavioral analysis (or ABA) is often the preferred treatment for children and people on the spectrum, and psychiatrists trained and specialized in ABA can help you better understand why your child may be misbehaving, and how to best teach them to avoid such behavior, or work around it. A trained psychiatrist will also be able to help you better differentiate between an action that may potentially be misbehavior, and behavior signaling an unmet need or some form of suffering and pain.

In general, professional help can be useful in many stages of parenting throughout the life of a person on the spectrum. It’s complex being a parent, but it can be even more complicated being a parent for someone with autism. Tips, treatments, and more can help take some of the pressure off by giving you a better idea of what to do moving forward, how to best interpret strange or unusual behavior, and how to react when faced with strange circumstances.

Some simple takeaways include avoiding physical discipline, identifying why your child may be misbehaving, and whether their behavior is something to be addressed firmly with discipline, or concern. Utilize reward systems, praise a job well done, and behave in a way you would want your child to behave.

Avoid simply telling your child off for doing something but tell them how they should be doing it instead. Avoid idioms and analogies (or explain them to your child afterwards), and stick to simpler, straightforward commands and rules. Children on the spectrum may often take things very literally, to a fault.

How Does Autism Affect Development?

Autism, or more specifically, the autism spectrum disorder, which is a diagnosis that encompasses the wide variety of symptoms and behaviors that we currently understand to be linked to autism, is a condition that has evolved in definition and understanding over the decades.

We know that autism and intellectual disability is separate, and that autistic children often struggle with learning disabilities, but that the two are distinct as well. So, in what way does autism affect child development, and is there a way to treat it, or improve the outcome?

To answer questions like that, we must first try to explain what autism is, and where the line is drawn between autism and other conditions that may be co-occurring, yet different.

 

What Is Autism? 

Autism begins in the brain, and its symptoms and defining characteristics exist on a spectrum, meaning that it can develop and be expressed in many different ways. Some defining characteristics of autism in young children include slow social development, problems with speaking and communicating (or lack of speech), repeated phrases and words, repeated movements, rituals, strict routines, sensory issues (or complete lack of sensitivity to sudden changes), and more.

While behaviors and psychological symptoms are often used to identify potential cases of ASD in children, ASD also often comes with a myriad of physical symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems, sleeping disorders, mood disorders, seizures, and forms of anxiety.

Autism is not an intellectual disability, which is a separate diagnosis. Intellectual disabilities are much rarer than autism and can leave a child with a much lower cognitive ability than their peers, causing difficulties with reasoning, math, decision making, and problem solving.

Autism is also not a learning disability, which typically refers to conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and ADD.

However, children on the spectrum may also be diagnosed with either an intellectual disability or a learning disability.

On a more complex level, symptoms and behaviors linked to autism exist on a spectrum because specific cases reveal specific strengths and weaknesses. Common weaknesses include the inability to grasp ‘big picture’ concepts, with a focus on details and individual parts rather than the whole, as well as social and psychological concepts such as regulating and controlling thoughts and emotions, and controlling behavior (executive function). Children with autism often possess humor and empathy, yet may struggle to display it, or struggle with concepts surrounding emotion and humor.

Autism is at least somewhat hereditary, as research has shown that cases of autism are more likely in families with a history of autism, as well as a history of specific genetic disorders such as Fragile-X and chromosome problems. Children can be diagnosed with a risk of having ASD before they are one year old, although it takes time for certain symptoms to begin.

 

Defining Child Development

While all children develop differently, there is a sequence and timeline among which most neurotypical children develop certain skills, specifically language skills, motor skills, and skills related to social interaction and planning. Some children develop much faster than others, and some children are impaired by developmental disorders, among which autism is one.

Autism slows child development, but the rate at which it affects child development varies. More than just that, the manner in which it affects child development differs as well. Some children exhibit more than one characteristic of autism, while others only exhibit one. For example, a child on the spectrum may struggle with central coherence (understanding how details come together) well as executive function, but they may not have any early problems with social interaction, or easily make friends. Some may only struggle with central coherence, but can plan ahead, and are quite social.

 

Identifying Weaknesses and Teaching Key Skills

ASD is identified early on in screening tests done on all children during regular checkups. Once confirmed and diagnosed, it’s a good idea to schedule appointments with an expert on ASD to assess developmental issues and identify issues that need to be addressed through intervention.

Early intervention for children on the spectrum can lead to marked improvements on all levels, from improving communication to behavioral control and planning. Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a particularly effective tool in helping reinforce techniques that seem to help a child understand concepts they have trouble with.

 

Progress is Not Predictable

There is no strict timeline for how a child on the spectrum improves, or exactly how far behind they will be in matters of development. Even with autism, children develop differently and some lag behind further in certain areas than others. Early intervention can help make the greatest difference, but it can’t be said how much of a difference that will be. It’s important to discuss these factors with a psychiatrist.

The nature of the developmental issues that are common in ASD can also change in individual cases. That means that issues may arise later rather than early on, and issues that were once prominent may fade with time. This why regularly staying in touch with a professional is also important.

 

But Progress Is There

What research can tell us is that there’s plenty of hope when it comes to how children with ASD progress. This progress can be measured in part by how children adapt to weaknesses identified years prior, through intervention and schooling. While it’s difficult to predict where a diagnosis of ASD will go, children on the spectrum do adapt over time, especially with treatment.

We know that treatment works. We know that starting interventions for ASD early in children yields better results. We know that, while outcomes will differ and symptoms vary greatly, children adapt over time. We know that skills that might be nonexistent at first can be taught, with consistent and effective teaching methods.

But we still lack the research to promote specific approaches and determine what kind of an approach yields the most progress for any given case. ASD is still an incredibly complex disorder, and one with plenty of mysteries. But it’s a disorder that can be addressed, treated, and lived with.

 

Why Behavior Analysts Are Important for Autism Treatment

When the mental branch of medicine was still in its nascent stages, therapy – as we know it today – was largely known as psychoanalysis. It was Sigmund Freud, infamous as he is today, who first coined and developed the concept, and the techniques he developed were, in a sense, applied analysis.

The study of the human mind has grown dramatically since then, and our understanding of what is and isn’t a matter of mental health has evolved and continues to evolve. While Freud’s contributions to modern psychiatry are significant, they have been deeply flawed – and as we learn more about ourselves, we can continue to find better ways to address, identify, and treat illnesses and challenges of the mind.

Less than a century ago, our understanding of autism was far less developed, and very bleak. Some relatively modern commentators went on to practically dehumanize children and adults with autism, and for many years, it was seen as untreatable.

Today, we know that it’s perfectly possible to lead a fulfilling life as a person on the spectrum. Some require more support than others, and every case requires support in its own unique way – with unique strengths and weaknesses – making treatment difficult. Yet of the many techniques and remedies that have been tried and tested, one that has served parents, educators, and psychiatrists well is applied behavior analysis, or ABA. The importance of proper behavior analysis cannot be understated for autism – because when it comes to interventions, ABA can do great work.

 

Applied Behavior Analysis is an Effective Intervention 

The primary reason why behavior analysts are important for the treatment of autism is because ABA has the most evidence regarding its efficacy as an intervention tool. Autism is not something that can be cured, neither is it always realistic to expect a child to ‘grow out’ of their symptoms.

Instead of trying to find ways to simply suppress what might be misconstrued as little more than an illness, it’s important to regard autism as not just an illness or a disability, but a condition that can pose certain challenges when it comes to parenting and teaching, but without necessarily diminishing a person’s capacity for intelligence, humor, or curiosity. Not a broken mind, but a different one.

Applied behavior analysis is effectively a toolset that educators, parents, and others can use to help someone on the spectrum better understand and contextualize the world around them, recognize cues that other children might intuitively pick up on, and develop skills that might take a little longer for people on the spectrum.

 

Behavior Analysts Can Help Create Better Parents

Patience and understanding are critical when raising a child on the spectrum, but perhaps one of the most disheartening and frustrating elements of parenting a child with autism is not quite understanding what’s going on in a child’s mind.

ABA by certified behavior analysts not only provides opportunities for children to develop many critical skills for self-sufficiency and physical independence, but it also helps parents better understand how to communicate and interact with their children and figure out how best to get through to them.

 

ABA Provides Children with Important Freedoms

One of the great challenges of treating autism is providing your children with independence, afforded by way of skills that other people take for granted. These can include self-care skills that require coordination and planning, like hygiene and dressing neatly, to much more complex skills, such as finding employment and maintaining a job, managing finances and groceries, scheduling, and more.

There’s no guarantee for how many of these skills your child will be able to learn, but the best way to learn them will often involve applied behavior analysis. This means:

  • Identifying potentially problematic behaviors.
  • Identifying the approach that elicits the most response.
  • Establishing a systemized set of goals for achieving a behavior change.
  • Regularly revisiting certain cues or techniques to reinforce behaviors.

Most kids pick up on certain skills quickly, but some children on the spectrum need help along the way. ABA is that help, but the shape and form in which it’ll be applied will differ from individual to individual.

 

Behavior Analysis Helps Combat the Problems of Low Expectations

When speaking about accountability and social justice, one concept that crops up often is the bigotry of low expectations. It’s that we set different standards for people we perceive as disadvantaged, and that this can be a problem in and of itself. By setting the bar low, we subsequently expect less – and as such, demand less, too.

Autism can come with challenges and setbacks, but it should not presuppose a set ceiling. Kids with autism can still learn and thrive, and in many cases, the right support can help them excel. Don’t succumb to low expectations – and look towards treatments like ABA as a road towards a better future for your child.

 

Behavior Analysis Is Important Because They May Need to Be Independent

There may be certain limits to what behavior analysts, intervention, and treatment can achieve. It really depends on when a person begins their treatment, what their symptoms are, what kind of other conditions they live with (if any), and how they react to treatment. However, applied behavioral analysis most definitely plays a critical role in the care and potential wellbeing of most people on the spectrum. It remains to be one of the most effective ways to address the difficulties presented by autism in the present day and gives countless children a better hope for a more fulfilling and accepting life.

ABA can change a person’s life for the better – but it’s best to start as soon as possible. The older we are, the harder it is to adapt and change. For those on the spectrum struggling with certain skills, it can get harder over time to make the necessary changes.

But harder doesn’t mean impossible. While starting early means making the most progress in the least amount of time, autism doesn’t necessarily stunt a person’s ability to learn – it stunts the manner in which they learn and absorb information. While autism may be linked with learning disabilities, the two do not always go hand in hand. ABA can help parents and educators better understand how to teach crucial life skills, both early on and later in life.

The Key to Holding A Job with Autism

It’s no secret that being on the spectrum can come with its fair share of challenges, especially for children trying to fit into school life, and adults just starting out in the workforce. These are massive adjustments that often require an understanding and skillset that can seem antithetical to autism, and many jobs and industries are not a good match for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Autism develops differently from person to person. Terms such as low-functioning and high-functioning can help contextualize how someone with ASD might perform in the majority of jobs, but it isn’t an accurate reflection of how autism truly develops.

 

A Complex Problem

For some, the symptoms they live with are quite mild. For others, they’re quite severe. But context is important. Individuals may be low functioning in a traditional sense, but can learn to thrive within a specific ruleset, or given the right training.

Through professional intervention, they may learn to slowly function individually despite having issues with tasks that appear simple on the surface – like picking out clothes for the day or brushing teeth – but they may continue to struggle with similar tasks that are physically uncomfortable or require planning. However, even in such cases, working with a professional might reveal specific behavior hinting at some sort of ability or skill later in life – like sorting items, memorizing numbering systems, doing data entry, simple manual labor, or cleaning.

Identifying what a child can and cannot do, where they excel and where they falter, and which skills come easy to them vs. which skills are hardest to learn can help them identify potential jobs for the future.

 

Good and Bad Jobs for Autism 

In 1999, renowned professor Temple Grandin published a short list to help individuals with autism and parents of children with autism better understand what kind of jobs best mesh with the condition, and which jobs may prove to be exceptionally challenging.

She divided the professions listed within the article between bad jobs, jobs good for visual thinkers, jobs good for non-visual thinkers, and jobs good for non-verbal individuals. The goal was to help provide a better picture of how individuals with ASD may not only enter the workplace, but potentially thrive within specific positions and occupations that may allow them to take full advantage of their unique talents.

Running themes within the article were that jobs that require multitasking, a capable short-term memory, good social skills, and a high tolerance for stress were generally ill-suited to autism. This is because many individuals with autism struggle when overwhelmed with information, cannot think clearly when directed to split their attention and focus on several things at once, and generally perform poorly when pressured. Occupations such as cashiers, waiters, short order cooks, air traffic controllers, taxi dispatchers, front desk workers and receptionists were listed as being poor choices for individuals on the spectrum.

On the other hand, a variety of jobs may allow individuals with ASD to thrive depending on what they personally excel at. These include jobs that require powers of visualization and troubleshooting such as automobile mechanic, lab technician, animal trainer, drafting (architecture and engineering), computer programming, web design, magazine layout, photography, and carpentry. An attention to detail and great long-term memory serves well in inventory control, quality assurance, bug testing, journalism, library science, accounting, statistics, and more.

 

Focusing on Strengths, Mitigating Weaknesses

Working while on the spectrum requires an awareness of one’s condition, both in terms of strengths as well as limitations. If you struggle with a hectic environment, confrontations, and social skills, then taking on jobs that require a high tolerance and ability in all three categories may be a poor choice.

On the other hand, there are many job opportunities and careers that do not require good social skills, constant stress, or lots of client interactions. Parents of children with ASD should try to encourage their children to try different things. They should try to recognize a pattern in what their child enjoys most, and work with professionals to nurture those skills.

Placement and work training programs aimed specifically at people with disabilities and people with ASD can be a boon for a young adult getting into the job market. These programs aim to help work with individuals to identify their strengths and weaknesses and match them to businesses looking to hire people with specific skillsets.

 

Identifying, Mitigating, and Avoiding Sources of Stress

Stress management is a critical portion of maintaining employment while on the spectrum. External sources of stress relief are particularly important, whether these are familial ties or friends and coworkers. As with anyone seeking a healthy work-life balance, it’s important to teach individuals with autism how to draw and maintain boundaries. Keeping work at work and using time away from work to recuperate and recover is important. These boundaries can help reduce burnout and avoid the toll that long-term stress takes on people.

Aside from establishing and nurturing a support system of people to speak to and rely on, it’s important to develop interests outside of work that can be turned to in order to relax. Helping individuals with ASD better understand the end-goal for their job and giving them specific goals to work towards can also help them feel less lost within a position and better understand what it is they should be doing, and what it is they’re working towards.

 

Working with Autism

It’s important to remember that being a part of the workforce isn’t just about fighting against the issues that autism present, but it’s also about learning how to work with autism, in every sense. While living on the spectrum is a disability in many cases, there are still areas in which a person with autism can excel. Even in the face of severe issues such as nonverbal autism, with the right support and a management that understands the challenges that may lie ahead, people can still hold and maintain a useful position in an organization.

As it becomes clear how many Americans are born and live with symptoms of autism, it becomes important for employers and managers in all industries to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of a person on the spectrum and consider where they might do well. Beyond charity, employing individuals on the spectrum in the right positions can be an incredible boon for many businesses, and going forward, a significant portion of the workforce will need to seek employment despite struggling with certain tasks and skills.

When it comes to helping individuals cope with the challenges of the workplace and find their own spot in society, it’s important to seek help early. Professional intervention can help children begin to work on skills that they might otherwise struggle more severely with in the future, and while autism is not ‘curable’ (and doesn’t need to be), getting professional help early on can help you and your child better understand autism and how to live with it.