Many people are aware that autism comes with unique needs and challenges. Some are not aware that it also comes with noticeable gifts. Autism is not all bad, nor all beautiful, just like any other way of being. Whether you are an autistic person searching to accept yourself, a loved one who wants to support the autistic people in their life, or a curious bystander, here is how to learn the benefits of autism and what autistics have to offer.
EditUnderstanding the General Benefits
- Recognize the passion and expertise that comes from special interests. Hans Asperger referred to his patients as “little professors” due to their expertise on their favorite topics. Special interests give autistic people focus and direction in their lives, and they can enjoy something deeply.
- Consider observation skills. Autistic people are often detail-oriented, and thus notice things that others don’t, whether it is a problem with the robot the group is building or the way the sunrise lights up the clouds.
- Recognize deep loyalty. Many autistic people are very loyal, and will stand with their friends and loved ones. This enables them to form strong bonds with others. Some companies even look to hire autistic people because they want employees who are loyal to the company.
- Observe enhanced helpfulness. Many autistic people have a high sense of social responsibility, or feeling responsible for helping others. As a result, many autistic people are caring and eager to give others a hand when needed.
- Recognize superior memory. Autistic people may have better memory, both related to facts about their special interests, and recalling events from the past.
- Consider visual skills and pattern recognition. Autistic people’s brains allocate more resources towards visual processing, and autistic people may be around 40% faster at problem-solving. Autistic people tend to be better at “systemizing” than non-autistics.
- Look for appreciation of the arts. Whether it means sketching colorful portraits, loving to dance, or enjoying theater, many autistic people have a special connection to various artistic fields. Some have natural “savant skills,” meaning that they demonstrate incredible abilities with little or no practice, while others gain talent through focused practice. Some prefer to enjoy art, rather than to create it.
- Consider talent with written language. Some autistic people have unique ways with language, and may write very poetically. From Amy Sequenzia to Emma Zurcher-Long, there are many autistic writers who are talented with words.
- A large vocabulary is moderately common.
- Notice the unique perspective. While non-autistics often struggle to “think outside the box,” autistic people barely know where the box is. Autistic people think differently, and are motivated to explore the world around them, which can lead to original and innovative ideas.
- This can be useful for problem solving. An autistic person may come up with a solution that others would miss.
- Some autistic people tell very funny jokes because of unique thinking.
- Recognize fairness and absence of judgment. Because autistic people think differently, and live in a culture where they are different from others, many autistics are open and welcoming to people who think and behave in ways different from them. Many autistic people are non-judgmental and accepting towards others’ differences.
- Consider truthfulness and sincerity. Autistic people tend to tell the truth, and mean what they say. Many autistic people are authentic, honest individuals.
- Consider clarity of mind in moral quandaries. Autistic people tend not to be weighed down by social complexities, which helps them avoid losing sight of their values amidst the noise. Autistic people often care strongly about principles.
- Despite popular myths, studies find that autistic people do care for others.
- Recognize the deep capacity for love. Loyalty, attention to detail, deep feeling, and caring can lead autistic people to love deeply and intensely.
- Many autistic people express love in practical ways, by helping the people they care about. For example, if you are sad, an autistic person might offer tissues and hot chocolate to help you feel better.
- Consider the person as an individual. One autistic person will not have all of the traits mentioned earlier, and this is perfectly normal and okay. They will also have their own strengths unique to themselves. Each autistic person is different. When using this list, be sure to recognize that it does not define or encompass you or your loved one.
- If you’re autistic, and you don’t relate to every single step here, that doesn’t make you a “bad autistic person.” It makes you average.
EditEncouraging Your Loved One’s Autistic Strengths
- Talk to them about autistic strengths. Many autistic people fear that they are worthless, broken, or burdensome to their families. They know how autism makes their life harder. Give them the full picture by explaining how autism also makes them stronger and unique.
- Make a children’s book, similar to a social story, explaining autistic strengths. Add pictures, read it to them, and keep it where they can reach it. You may notice them taking greater pride in themselves and imitating what they read.
- Consider showing this article to an older loved one.
- Celebrate their special interests. Special interests can provide joy and direction in your loved one’s life, so encourage them. Help them find activities related to their favorite things, keep special interests in mind when looking for birthday gifts, and ask questions about areas of the subject that interest you. Make sure they can access plenty of information about their special interest(s).
- Engage in discussions about deeper topics. Because autistic people often prefer meaningful areas of conversation, this is a good way to engage with them and encourage their abilities in critical thinking. Topics may range from the nature of love, to human rights, to the history of your country.
- Offer opportunities in creative fields. Some autistic people are very skilled at music, art, writing, et cetera (or may become very skilled through practice). Present opportunities to your loved one, and see what sticks. They may discover something amazing about themselves.
- Comment when you notice them doing something good, or think a positive thought about them. Many autistic children are used to being criticized and told no. Take time to tell them when they’ve done something right. You can also tie this into autistic strengths if you consider it fitting.
- “Wow, Wendy, you know so much about snakes! It’s cool to see you learning and talking about something so passionately.”
- “What a beautiful painting! I love the bright colors.”
- “John, it was really kind of you to help that little boy.”
- “You are so silly and adorable.”
- “That was an incredible speech you gave. I’m proud of you.”
- Help make sure that all their needs are met. It’s hard for them to be happy and live up to their full potential if they are experiencing constant sensory overload or battling depression. Help them advocate for their needs, and back them up if others are not being accommodating. If you are their caregiver, ensure that they get any therapies and medical treatments they may need. When they are doing well, they can flourish.
- Love them for who they are. Don’t let your loved one doubt whether they are good, whether they make your life better or worse, or whether they have a place in the world. Send a clear, constant message that you love their autistic self, and they are never a burden in your eyes.
- Expect them to grow at their own pace. An autistic person may be extremely advanced in some ways, while struggling with other tasks that their peers easily accomplish. It’s okay if your loved one doesn’t meet their milestones at the same pace everyone else is. Don’t push too hard and over-stress them. Instead, meet them where they are, and gently work up from there.
- Enjoy your time with them. Your loved one is a unique, wonderful individual who can open you up to new ideas and perspectives. Have fun with them.
EditEmbracing Your Autistic Strengths
- Hone your skills. Becoming a more capable person is not only about reducing your weaknesses, but about strengthening the skills you already have. Spend more time on your special interests. Find hobbies, work, and volunteer in ways that build upon your existing strengths.
- Embrace your perceptiveness. You notice far many more details than others do, and while this is certainly overwhelming sometimes, it can also be an incredible gift. Pay close attention when working on detailed projects, and speak up if you notice something off (because others may have missed it). Slow down to enjoy the beauty of nature. Take time to catalogue your observations and enjoy the things you see, hear, smell, and feel.
- Spend time with puzzles and games. Your visual and problem-solving skills are most likely enhanced, and you can strengthen them further through practice. Look for puzzles that test your logic skills and challenge your brain.
- Many games on your phone involve visual thinking.
- Practice loving honesty. You don’t need to tell “white lies” in order to have good relationships; instead combine your autistic compassion and sincerity to speak kindly to others. You have the capacity to be a deeply authentic, loving person.
- When you think a nice thought about someone, say it out loud. Even if they aren’t around, your kind words may eventually come back to them.
- Pair criticism with compliments. For example, “Grandpa, I’m surprised a thoughtful and fair-minded person like you would speak so negatively about Muslims.”
- Critique objects or actions, not people. For example, if your wife really does look awful in that dress, say “I don’t think it does your figure justice. What about the blue one?”
- Don’t be afraid to ask for accommodations. When all your needs are met, you have more energy to focus on what you do well. You live in a world designed for non-autistics, and tailoring your home and workspace to your autistic brain will allow you to work better.
- Enjoy life. Focus on things that are enjoyable and good for you. Slow down the rush to be perfect, and spend more time enjoying what’s around you and doing things you love.
- If something is difficult or painful, and not rewarding enough to justify it, then quit. You don’t need to measure up to neurotypical standards in order to be happy. Pare away unnecessary stress.
- Make a list of things that fulfill you and make you feel happy, from family to nature walks to volunteering. Find ways to work more of these into your everyday life.
- Give yourself patience, time, and love. Autism is a disability, and understanding the strengths doesn’t erase the hard parts. It’s okay to feel tired, frustrated, or worried at times. You will have bad days, and you don’t have to be hard on yourself. Work on developing coping skills, such as…
- Reading through a rainy day box
- Getting outdoors
- Looking through autism positivity blogs and re-reading this article
- Remember that you are unique. Don’t judge yourself by neurotypical standards, because those won’t fit you. Instead of trying to be more “normal,” work on building the skills you need and loving yourself as you are. Trying to make yourself neurotypical, or beating yourself up for not being neurotypical, isn’t going to help you. Instead, work on becoming a healthy, talented, and happy autistic person.
- Non-autistic people should avoid stereotyping autistic people with beliefs like “they’re all angels” or “their brains are like supercomputers.” Autistic people are real people. They are just as diverse as non-autistics are (if not more so) and also have bad days and weaknesses.
- Cope with Autism Awareness Month
- Be Openly Autistic
- Be a Sweet Autistic Girl
- Interpret Autistic Body Language
- Experience Autistic Culture
- Support an Autistic Person
- Relate to an Autistic Person
- Accept Your Autism
- Understand an Autistic Person’s Needs
EditSources and Citations
- Tony Attwood lists alternative, positive autism criteria
- Autistic people superior in multiple areas: Scientists must stop emphasizing autistics’ shortcomings, expert urges