I speak autism!

November 19, 2012
Chelsea Budde

As part of Good Friend's Peer Sensitivity Workshops, Denise and I conduct phone interviews with the primary caregiver and most relevant staff member so we can get an understanding of how our student subject "ticks".  We have a prescribed form we go through, typing answers and sometimes delving deeper into comments as we go along.  I often find myself chuckling at many of the described behaviors.  Clearly, the interviewee doesn't find these eccentricities nearly as charming as I do.  As a result, I can sense the parent's or teacher's confusion on the other end of the call about my lighthearted giggle.  Sometimes, I have to explain.

I have two children with ASD, ages 13 and 11.  And I've met dozens and dozens of individuals with autism through my experiences, both personal and professional.  As I make connections about these amazing people and consider the factors driving many of their behaviors (preferences, aversions, repetitive acts, etc.), I can't help but feel blessed to know them and understand the meaning of these behaviors.

For example, I've heard about so many children with ASD, boys in particular, who do not like babies.  I've come to understand that babies present a host of unpredictable sensory experiences (i.e., loud crying, smelly spit-up and messy diapers) that make being in their presence anxiety-provoking for these guys.  This is true for my own son, who has several young cousins -- many of whom have gone rather "unappreciated" by my boy until, perhaps as preschoolers, they're ready to show some interest in his favorite topics.  So these moments of his endearingly awkward interactions flash before my eyes as I'm talking to these teachers and parents, and I have to smile.  Sometimes out loud.

But making connections and understanding how people with autism are wired doesn't mean that autism is my native language.  I speak it because of cultural immersion, but I wasn't born with autism in my body.  So while this immersion makes me fluent in autism, it doesn't make a true expert.  Certainly, I can interpret autism for neuro-typicals who don't speak the language themselves, but the best way to understand autism is to interact with the experts.

Not sure why your person with autism behaves in a specific way?  ASK (politely in a moment of calm and clarity)!  You might be surprised about the insight you gain and the level of self-awareness your person has.  Little or no reliable means of communication yet?  Play detective!  The Iceberg Model of Autism (Eric Schopler, TEACCH, 1994) reminds us that the observable behavior is just the tip of the iceberg, and what's beneath those acts is generally a combination of environmental contributors (sensory perception, social or processing differences, etc.).  Listen actively.

What discoveries have you made as you've learned the language and culture of autism?

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