In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we want to take advantage of April to talk a little bit more about this common condition. Today, it’s the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States, with 1 in 68 children newly diagnosed each year. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) carries a host of different symptoms and expressions, making each individual experience unique. There are some shared characteristics, though, that help to build a sense of community and bring some distinct advantages that we should celebrate!
While those with ASD may struggle with social cues, they can have an almost extraordinary attention to detail in most other situations. Many times, they can be criticized for failure to see “the bigger picture” because they focus a lot on little details. In part, this is the result of a hypersensitivity to sensory input, like lights, sounds, etc. that comes along with this disorder. While sometimes distracting, it can also help individuals with ASD take in the details that many of us miss and fully appreciate the surrounding beauty.
Additionally, this attentiveness can be an asset for many future jobs! Employers in the IT field actively recruit those with ASD, and other industries are starting to catch on, as well. Not only does neurodiversity add to the workplace dynamic, but also their perceptiveness allows them to approach problems innovatively. Increasingly intangibles, like decision-making skills, are prized in the work environment, which is a positive trend for individuals with ASD.
Many of us have hobbies, but how many of us are experts? Often, individuals with ASD will have one or two primary interests that consume much of their time. While their single-minded devotion to this topic can worry parents, or educators, it’s also an example of their passionate nature. They know what they like, and they’re not afraid to devote their time and energy to this pursuit—even though it may not be popular at the time.
As they grow and mature, others will start to appreciate their expertise more. A shared interest can bring new, lasting friendships, as well as garner respect in communities established around these areas. It can even turn into a fulfilling job opportunity. For example, an individual who really enjoys searching for and collecting rocks/minerals may become a geologist someday. If that doesn’t happen, he/she will still have a lifelong passion to enjoy.
Think about the traditional human behavior that confuses you—the hidden agendas, the unspoken expectations, the judgement, or outright lies. Now imagine a relationship without any of those. Traditionally, those with ASD are much less concerned with societal norms, and thus much more accepting of their peers than they might otherwise be, especially during adolescence.
If you want to know what they’re thinking, all you have to do is ask. If you want to be different, yet accepted for your individual likes and quirks, then they’re the best friends to have. Additionally, they can make great teachers, not necessarily for their patience, but for their inherent sense of equality. Not only are they less likely to judge others on stereotypical standards like attractiveness or wealth, but also (in a related capacity), they’re more likely to be accepting of others with disability. Thus, they can teach people about the greater concept of tolerance, as well as their specific areas of expertise.
In fact, it’s been proven that individuals with a family member diagnosed with ASD are more compassionate toward their community members. Thus, these benefits extend beyond the individuals, to their family members, then community, then so on and so forth. At The Family Center, we work with a variety of people in Carroll and Howard Counties on topics such as these. We’d love to speak more about it with your family, or school, or other public organization. Just let us know how we can help you celebrate Autism Awareness Month!