One of the hardest things about my autism is the unreliable fluidity of my own thinking. Sometimes my thoughts are fluid and sometimes they are not. When my thoughts are fluid I can easily think through task-oriented things such as making a meal, writing an article, or cleaning the house. I can make a mental (or written) list and follow it. I can think of a main idea and sub topics. I can gather supplies and start.
It can be difficult for some autistic people to sort out what things are okay to say and what things are not okay to say in various social situations. This was true for a high school student I worked with during the past year. William very much enjoyed talking with others, but was asking questions and making comments that were not appreciated by teaching staff. Worse, these comments and questions were causing other students to avoid him rather than include him in social exchanges. Each time teaching staff explained to William that his comment had been offensive and had caused other students to move away from him William would feel bad, say he would not make that comment again and could even come up with alternative comments to use in the future to replace the offensive comment. After two years not much had changed in William’s ability to refrain from using offensive comments or ask questions that were considered rude or inappropriate.
In my work as a clinician licensed in my state to provide mental health therapy, many parents of children diagnosed with autism tell me how much they appreciate the fact that I am not only a therapist, but also am autistic. They feel they have a hybrid of sorts – I am a clinician, an autistic and have parented both children with and without autism. In addition, I have been an autism consultant for several school districts over the years so also can appreciate the educational side of things when it comes to their children with autism they are bringing to see me in the therapy setting.
Autistic people may not automatically know how to respond to rhetorical social questions such as “How are you?” or automatically reciprocate in social pleasantries such as “good morning.” This is not because they are rude, obnoxious, don’t care, or any of the other assumed reasons people attribute to this behavior. Instead, it is because all social information is not automatically picked up and used by a person with an autistic brain. The autistic brain simply works differently. Even so, autistic people can learn those things their particular brain hasn’t allowed them to automatically pick up.
During the past school year I worked with a third grader diagnosed with autism as he returned to school after being discharged from a treatment center. Jake displayed many behaviors that did not work well in the classroom. These behaviors occurred predominantly during math class. Jake’s scores in math were 82 – 90 percent over the previous quarter. With these scores, it did not appear that he was struggling in math.