What We Can Learn From Children With Autism

By Aaron Smith

There’s an old saying: “Once you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” In other words, no condition can define a person. At the same time, there are some common struggles that children with autism (and their parents) face on a regular basis. With adversity comes strength and growth — marginalized groups know this fact better than anyone. 

Here are some reflections and insights that I’ve gleaned over the years of parenting a child with autism.

1. We Can’t Always Understand Frustrations 

Empathy is trying to see the world through another’s eyes — even when we can’t fathom the depths of painful emotions and societal hurdles. Because we experience the world differently than children with autism, it can be difficult to truly understand how and why they feel the way they do at any given moment. This same principle applies to all people. 

“Sonder” is an unofficial word that was coined in 2012 in John Koenig’s project, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which sought to ascribe words to emotions that lack words. Sonder refers to the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. 

“Even things that can be routine or pleasant for neurotypical children can cause sensory issues for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).” – Dr. Steven DeLisle, founder of Children’s Dentistry of Las Vegas

For example, watching a movie can be a great way for you to unwind, but the experience can be quite overwhelming for a child with autism. You’re both watching the same screen, but you’re both going through very different experiences. Try to remember that while we’re all watching a similar (metaphorical) screen, we don’t all respond the same. 

Let’s take the concept of conception. LGBTQ couples face enormous hurdles when trying to accomplish one of the most basic human rights: reproducing. When a heterosexual couple decides to reproduce, nobody bats an eye (unless they’re celebrating). Meanwhile, same-sex couples are forced to jump through hoops, not to mention dealing with the societal perspective of those who only see the world through their narrow viewpoint.

So, the lesson learned is that we’re not always going to be able to understand a person’s frustration, but that doesn’t make them any less real. When a child with autism is shielding their eyes during a movie, it’s because they’re genuinely overwhelmed. We should all try to recognize that those of us who ‘shield our eyes’ often have very valid reasons to do so.

2. Staying Positive Isn’t Always a Choice

Trying to stay positive can be a major struggle, especially for marginalized groups. Feelings of resentment, hopelessness, and anger can be very difficult to control, especially in a world full of triggering stimuli. If you’ve ever been told to “smile!” by a passerby on the street, you know the frustration. 

Children with autism live in a different reality from other children, and that’s naturally going to cause negative emotions. It’s important to remember that putting on a happy face isn’t always a feasible or even reasonable solution. Try to mitigate the pain, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t succeed.

When you’re feeling low, try not to compound your pain by scorning yourself for your very real and justified emotions. Be kind to yourself, and try to stay positive on your own terms. Shutting down the negative voice in your head takes time and effort, and the simple truth is that it’s not always going to work.

3. Your Surroundings Affect Your Personal Growth

Children with autism often find great comfort in basic autism products and toys. For example, a weighted blanket can soothe anxiety. A sensory lamp or calming oils can reduce stress. Anyone can take these basic principles to heart. While carrying a security blanket to work might not be practical, you can take steps to find comfort through everyday objects and activities as long as they help you.

For instance, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you could try journaling. Putting your thoughts on paper can provide clarity to your thoughts. Or, if you’ve been feeling stressed at home, cleaning and redecorating can go a long way in improving your mood — never underestimate the power of houseplants!

4. Little Victories Are Worth Celebrating

There are no small victories, only victories. While we should always strive for big changes, it’s important that we also acknowledge and celebrate even the (perceived) tiny accomplishments. Progress takes time. Taking two steps forward and one step back still means you’ve gained ground. Cherish those little moments when you succeed.

Seeing a struggling child with autism crack a smile can be so rewarding for parents. Try to take that same approach to all aspects of your life. When life is overwhelming, it’s too easy to miss those little moments. Yes, the fight will continue, and it won’t always be easy, but try not to focus so heavily on the forest that you forget to enjoy the trees.

5. There’s No Such Thing as a “Normal” Person

1 in 54 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum, according to the CDC. That’s well over a million children who have autism, and that’s just accounting for the U.S. When you feel alone or ostracized, try to remember that there are countless people all over the world going through similar trials and tribulations. Being different from the majority doesn’t make you any less of a person. In fact, it’s often those on the margins of society who have the most to give.

Every Day Is a New Opportunity to Learn

We’re constantly surrounded by lessons just waiting to be absorbed and put into practice. Take the time to try to learn from all people, even those who aren’t in your bubble. Children with autism are just one group we can learn from. Practice empathy whenever possible. The world is a much better place when we all try to walk in each other’s shoes.

Aaron Smith is an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoys swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi novels.

Tags: × × ×

Comments are closed.