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Autism consists of a broad range of symptoms that makes it very difficult to be categorized under a single definition. As such, people who are on the spectrum often find it difficult to explain to others how it is really like to have autism. People with autism experience the various symptoms to a different degree than the other. Some may share characteristics but not everyone experiences the exact same thing. As Dr. Stephen Shore once said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Because others do not really understand what people on the spectrum are going through, they are often labelled crazy, stupid or slow. Their condition is usually stereotyped as a mental disorder. They are also outcasted from social groups and often a subject of bullying and discrimination.
One of the main characteristics of people with autism is their lack of social skills. They struggle with communicating and engaging in social interactions. In classroom settings or social groups, you may find individuals who are silent and socially awkward. They do not answer you and ignore you when you talk to them, and they seem to be spacing out.
Lori Sealy in her My Answer to the Question “What does Autism Feels Like” article, shared her experiences living on the spectrum through the “frayed wire” analogy. In this article, she used the idea of a speaker cable to explain the neurological wiring of someone with autism. For example, in a normal setting, a cable wire transmits sound from the stereo to the speakers. When the wire is in good condition, the speaker produces good quality sound. However, when the wire is being tampered with or damaged, the speaker produces weird noises and static. It may also omit some sounds and come off muffled. Translating this analogy, the frayed wire represents the neurological processing of people with autism. The sound from the stereo represents the sensory cues such as sight, sound, smell or touch. The neurological wiring of people with autism blocks off these sensory cues that cause them to struggle in responding to different social situations, i.e. their senses are dulled. This is why sometimes they seem to be disconnected from their surroundings.
Another characteristic of people with autism is having a repetitive behaviour. You may observe them flipping their pens or tapping their table from time to time. They watch the same video or do a certain activity repeatedly. This can be weird and annoying for some people and it also causes them trouble sometimes because it may appear as if they are doing these actions on purpose. However, these unusual behaviours are involuntary. They do not have control over such actions and sometimes they are even unaware that they are doing it.
As opposed to the first characteristic, some people on the spectrum also experience oversensitivity to various stimuli. Their senses are oversensitive, and they react to it negatively. For example, the sound of hair dryer or bright lights cause them discomfort. These stimuli cause reaction in their brain that might also lead to panic attacks.
People on the spectrum display different traits. Some may be oversensitive; some may not be. Some may be unresponsive and disconnected; some may be too active. But one thing that they are not, is being crazy. These people are merely misunderstood. They may come off different from the rest of us, but they are trying to fit in. These people live in fear and frustration. The pain caused by their condition is one thing, the pain inflicted the negative criticism of others is another. The next time you observe an individual struggling and displaying the traits mentioned above, try to be a little more understanding. It does not hurt to be patient and kind.
Sealy, L. (2016, April 22). My Answer to the Question ‘What Does Autism Feel Like?’. Retrieved from themighty.com: https://themighty.com/2016/04/what-does-autism-feel-like/