I recently received a mention from @Chris on a question on autistic savants.
I’m realizing now that the world of autism can be confusing if you don’t have a family member with autism (I do) or if you haven’t worked in special education with individuals with autism (I have). I also ran a blog on autism for a few years and had guest blog posts from researchers, sensory device inventors, and other experts in the field.
I am by no means an expert, so consider this an overview rather than a definitive guide. But I do know quite a bit more than most neurotypicals.
What’s a “neurotypical”? It’s a term used by individuals with autism to describe people who have a “typical brain.” Which is a fairly good description of the opposite of autism.
Someone who has autism has their brain wired differently. This can affect them in a variety and range of different ways.
Intelligence. It can range from intellectually disabled (formerly called mental retardation) to average intellect to genius level. A savant is someone with an extraordinary ability in one specific area, such as art or the ability to learn a language in a week.
Communication. Verbal to non-verbal. Some individuals are non-verbal and unable to communicate their needs. Some are non-verbal but can communicate through the use of an iPad with pictures. Some are non-verbal but can write Medium articles.
Bodily Functions. Some individuals have motor balance control issues.
Social Skills. Learning the unwritten rules are extremely difficult for some individuals with autism. As a result, making friendships and relationships can be difficult for some. But social skills, like any skill, can be taught and you may not know from talking to someone that they have autism. Girls with autism are under-diagnosed because they are better at hiding or “masking” their social skills deficits.
Sensory. This is the most fascinating part of autism to me; and it’s often overlooked or unmentioned by the media. Senses are heightened. Loud noises can be overwhelming. Bright lights can be overwhelming. Each person can react differently to sensory stimuli.
Deep Pressure. There is often a need for pressure on your body to feel calm. Some people like to spin. Some need a weighted blanket when sleeping. I once interviewed the inventor of an inflatable deep pressure vest to allow students to discretely meet their needs during class time.
Stimming. You’ve seen a fidget spinner, which is a way to meet stimming needs. I can’t explain it exactly as a neurotypical, but it meets a self-regulation need. Pen clicking, eye blinking, hand flapping. This is something that adults can find challenging to meet this need discretely in the workplace. Or to find an employer who’s okay with their not being discrete about it.
Last I checked the data, and it’s been a few years, a minority of individuals with autism were considered “high functioning”. That’s a less than exacting term, but I view high functioning as an ability to be able to graduate high school or higher learning and an ability to hold down a full-time or part time job.
What that means is that a majority of individuals with autism are not able to.
Which makes understanding autism extremely difficult since you can have a genius Silicon Valley engineer with autism, an autistic savant who can draw New York City from memory, an adult with autism who can’t drive because they can’t process all the unpredictable outcomes, and a nonverbal adult who cannot take care of their own toileting needs and needs 24/7 care.
On top of that, many famous people have self-diagnosed themselves because they have some of the above challenges.
So if you’ve been confused because your world view of autism was the movie “Rain Man”, it’s completely understandable.
If you have questions, feel free to ask. If I don’t feel qualified enough to answer, I’ll try to tag in some actual experts I do know.