What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals.
According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism.
Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes more subtly.
The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development.
Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity. Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.
This definition of autism is adapted from one written by Dr Nick Walker, an autistic writer.
Communication Coaching for autistic people and their families
I provide communication coaching to autistic people and their significant others. I work with people to help them:
- Create a clear idea of how they would like to communicate in different situations.
- Reflect on their current communication and interactions.
- Identify why, when and where they are experiencing success.
- Identify why, when and where they are experiencing challenges.
- Explore options for making communication work better, these will be different for each client but here are some examples:
- Recognise common communication styles and knowing how to match them to become a more effective communicator
- Gain insight about unspoken communication rules
- Stay calm when you have something to say which is difficult (conflict situations).
- Develop social confidence
- Develop self-advocacy skills to ask for reasonable adjustments
- Resolve communication breakdowns with more understanding
- Be assertive without becoming aggressive
- Use direct and explicit language to avoid misunderstandings
- Initiate conversations and keep them going
- Communicate in group situations
I encourage people to think through which options will work best for them and help people with skill-building and action planning if they want this support.