Tag Archives: neurodiversity

Autism, Direct Instruction and Having Friends

Social understanding and communication are two areas impacted by autism neurology. The way this plays out is different from one autistic individual to the next. Typically, for autistics I have worked with, this means that they do not always pick up social information from the world around them through observation only as most people do. Instead, they sometimes need direct instruction concerning information their autistic neurology doesn’t allow them to automatically pick up and learn.

I think it is important that those around autistics understand that not having typical social understanding of same age peers is part of what autism means. Many times I have seen well meaning adults blame autistics for behavior that is a result of their brain not picking up and synthesizing social aspects of many things in the way people with typical brains do. It is common for adults to think that since the autistic is smart he should know better and that he is choosing to behave rudely. This misattribution has so many negative and far reaching consequences for everyone involved.

In general, it seems that people looking at an autistic really cannot see the autism. This means it is difficult for most people to know what behaviors are reflective of the underlying autism. If a person has a broken arm we can see the cast and understand the person will not be able to use his arm as typically expected. If an autistic person does not have the social understanding of how to act when losing a game we may see him act as a sore loser. We do not see the differently connected neurological pathways that feed information from a variety of brain areas in a split second that are not connected in the usual manner and therefore cannot be used to pull up good loser behavior. That is, we cannot see the autism at play – we can only see the sore loser behavior.

To help in seeing the autism when it comes to areas of unexpected behavior due to atypical social understanding that is part of the basis of an autism diagnosis, here is an example of direct teaching that took place over several months for a 12-year-old boy to learn the skills involved in being a good loser. Learning these skills allowed him to play games with others his age – something he very much wanted to do.

Example of Direct Teaching on How to Be a Good Loser:

Rodney could only play games if he could be assured ahead of time he would win. He would actually say, “I will only play if you let me win.” Rodney very much wanted to play video games and board games with others and even though he had above average intelligence, couldn’t grasp why other 12 year olds didn’t want to play with him.

Social Story: I wrote a social story as a way to give Rodney the social information around winning and losing when playing a game.

Cartooning: Additionally, each time Rodney had played a game he would relay the information and I would draw it out in cartooning style with the talk bubbles. Once the sequence of events were drawn out we would go back over it and fill in thought bubbles. Rodney was often miffed as to the thoughts and feelings of others. He would sometimes take the cartoon home so he could ask his parents if I had the thought bubbles “right.”

Modeling: Additionally, each time I saw Rodney we played UNO and he won. I was very demonstrative in portraying good loser behavior along with identifying it as good loser behavior.

Visual Support: We even started a chart called How to Be a Good Loser and took turns writing down my good loser behavior.

Video Technology: Then, we would watch a You Tube clip that showed kids playing games, particularly watching for good loser behavior. Eventually we watched both good and bad loser behavior of kids playing games and Rodney became quite good at sorting out which behavior was good and which was not good.

Visual Response Prediction Rating Scale: Because Rodney was fond of science and experiments; we made a loser behavior rating scale where we decided, based on the loser behavior whether he would be invited to play another game with his opponent. Here is a snippet from that scale.

Likelihood of Being Invited to Play Again 

Loser Behavior

Invited to Play Again

Maybe Invited to Play Again

Not Invited to Play Again

“Good game”

X

 

 

“I hate you” and throws game pieces

 

 

X

“I hope I win next time” and kicking the board game

 

X

 

Quitting when it looks like you may lose

 

 

X

“Let’s have a rematch!” said with a voice expecting it to be a fun gam

X

 

 

Play Acting Desired Behavior: Next, Rodney practiced the good loser behaviors as if he were an actor in a play. I wrote a script where the characters, Jack and Jane played UNO with Jack winning the first game and Jane winning the second game. Each character exhibited good loser behavior when they lost. Rodney could do this play-acting, but he would always inform me, “This isn’t a real game. It is reading script.”

Video Technology: Then, we made our own video clips on Rodney’s iPad with him playing the character Jack being a good loser. We watched these video clips many times. It allowed Rodney to solidify the picture of himself using good loser behavior.

Predictability: Finally, I told Rodney that I would let him win game 1, 3 and 5 of UNO, but game 2 and 4 I would play my best and this meant that sometimes he might win and sometimes I might win.

Video Technology/Vicarious Behavior Rehearsing/Priming: Right before game 2 and 4 we would take a break to look at our Jack video clips.

Predictability: Whenever it looked like I was close to winning I would announce it so as to prepare Rodney, though he was keeping track pretty accurately.

Non-Verbal Prompting: The first time I was near winning Rodney announced he no longer wanted to play UNO. I pointed to our chart so he could be reminded of where that reaction was likely to lead. I started watching one of his video clips. He didn’t want to watch it, but because I was watching it he heard himself portraying his good loser behavior.

Allowing Extra Time for Processing During Difficult Moment: I told him to let me know when he was ready to finish the game. He took the iPad and watched the video clip and then said he was ready. It was really hard for him that first time he lost, but he was able to pull up the desired behavior.

Repetition and Practice: Eventually, with more practice, Rodney was able to pull up the good loser behaviors. In the beginning he needed to know before starting the game whether I was going to let him win or not. Eventually, we both played our best, neither one knowing who would win until we came to the end of the game.

Desired Outcome Achieved: Ultimately, Rodney was able to play games with others, which is what he so much wanted to do. One day he greeted me with an impish smile on his face and shyly said Darius had invited him to a sleepover on the weekend so they could play video games. He said, “I hope I win, but if I don’t I’ll be a good loser. I have to because mom says if it goes well I can invite Darius for a sleepover at my house next time.”

In retrospect, I could have added in a reinforcement system when Rodney started losing for real. We often reward ourselves when we do hard things well. Setting this up for Rodney likely would have helped him master the skill sooner. It would have also opened the way for us to talk about how he might chose to reward himself in the future when he does something well that was difficult for him to do in the moment. For example, if he loses graciously while playing a game with a friend, he might get 15 minutes extra of screen time (negotiated ahead of time with his parents). This would be similar to me deciding that on work mornings where I start with several hours of email to answer I will have a bagel with my coffee! We all set up self-reinforcement. Some of us do this without thinking much about it and others need to be directly taught to do this. It is simply another one of those  life long skill that can be directly taught!

It is also noteworthy that many autistics need some sensory modifications to the environment, breaks to regulate their sensory system, instruction on how to play the game and other supports particular to the way autism presents in them. I have used Rodney’s example because it required many different support strategies over a long period of time for him to experience his desired outcome of having friends play games with him. Others I have worked with required both less and more in the areas of support strategies and time to learn new skills. While we can all learn from Rodney’s example and find many useful strategies, how support is given to another person needing to learn a similar skill will work best when it is individualized to the needs of that person.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Autism and Movement Fluidity in Thinking

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.

When my thoughts are not fluid life is a bit different. When it comes to meals, rather than eating dinner, I will eat one thing at a time. I might eat a banana. Then an hour later I might put a frozen turkey burger in the microwave and eat that. Later still I might put a bag of frozen vegetables in the microwave and eat just those vegetables. It works for me. When it comes to writing or cleaning the house I am not able to engage when my thoughts are not fluid. Well, technically, I could engage, but have learned that it is a huge waste of time. My best strategy is to put it off until my thoughts are more fluid.

Because it does not work in life to simply put off doing many things because my thoughts are not fluid I have figured out strategies to keep my thinking as fluid as possible. Many of these strategies are sensory related. The more disregulated my body becomes the less fluid my thoughts is the general rule. Even so, it is not consistent across the board. There have been occasions where I was quite disregulated and had fluid thoughts. There have also been occasions when I have been well regulated and my thinking fluidity was anything but fluid!

Helpful Activities Toward Impacting Movement Fluidity in My Thinking

  • Maintaining General Over All Sensory Regulation: I spend several hours every day to maintain regulation as best I can. Typically I have a current routine that works well for a couple of years and then what works for me to bring daily sensory regulation to my system changes.
  • Walking: Many times walking seems to serve as an oil of sorts for my thoughts – i.e., walking helps my thoughts to move along as my feet take steps.
  • Writing: Sometimes I can kick my thinking into movement if I begin to write words. This strategy is especially helpful when my brain is stuck on a phrase that keeps repeating in my thoughts. I find that if I write down a repeating phrase each time it comes up that after a few times I can continue on with the written phrase. Sometimes I continue on in writing and other times the thought fluidity is sparked enough that I can continue on with my thinking without the need for written support to aid the thinking fluidity.
  • Art Endeavors: Creating anything artful that shows movement such as painting, quilling, quilting, knitting, crocheting, photography, etc. is quite helpful to get sluggish, non-fluid thoughts moving better. The practical problem with this strategy is that even though I have many sorts of art endeavors I enjoy, they are packed away on shelves inside a large walk in closet. When my thoughts are not fluid I do not have the capability to get out the supplies I need for any given project. I have tried over the years to outsmart this by having a great organization system with totes/boxes clearly labeled. While this has made for a neat storage closet it hasn’t been helpful in terms of being able to get out needed supplies to engage in an art project when my thoughts are not fluid, i.e. when I need it most is when I can’t do it.
  • Reading: This strategy doesn’t consistently work, but it is so easy to pick up a book to see if reading will work. I can know after reading a few pages whether or not it will work. I always have several books I am in the process of reading so have lots to choose from at my fingertips when I am home! I have also found that if I read every day it seems to be helpful in terms of keeping my thoughts more fluid.

Additional Information

The problems I experience with fluidity in thinking seems to be a movement related issue. It has so many parallels to physical movement only instead of my body moving, the movement has to do with the physical movement in my brain that happens when thinking. The impact of movement fluidity in thinking used to be a small factor in my life. It seemed that as long as my body was in a good place with sensory regulation my thinking fluidity was pretty good. This has changed with age, especially over the past few years.

Additionally, the problems I experience with fluidity in thinking are not the same as experienced by older adults in general. When movement fluidity in thinking becomes glitchy – jumping, stopping, slowing with irregularity in pace and intensity – I can impact it towards good by employing the previously stated measures. If I do not actively use these strategies my thoughts become fewer and fewer along with body movement becoming less and less. This gets scary so now that I have figured out what to do I do so.

Poverty of Information Currently Available

During the past few years (I am 61 as I write this blog) my thinking fluidity has become more front and center in needing to be managed. The ideas stated here have been the ones that have worked the best for me. There is so little written about autism and aging. There are so many autistics aging. It seems I am foraging into new territory to write about this topic.

I also wonder about the impact of autistic burnout factor that many of my aging autistic cohorts have written and discussed. This burnout has to do with becoming physically unable to keep up the pace of acting as if we are not autistic so as to fit into the world around us. After decades of making ourselves appear to be of typical neurology so that we can work to pay the bills and interact in community settings to raise our kids many of us slowly come to experience burnout. Some of us have come to a grinding halt and others of us experience this burnout more slowly over time, but all of us have found it necessary to pull back, retreating from the demands of our world. I wonder if there is an intersection or overlap of autistic burn out and difficulty maintaining thinking fluidity or perhaps if uneven movement fluidity in thinking is part of autistic burnout.

Looking to the Future

I would love to hear from others as to the presence/absence of increasing difficulty with thinking fluidity as aging occurs along with any helpful ideas you are willing to share from your own experience. In addition, if anyone knows of anything written about this topic of movement fluidity in thinking being impacted as autistics age please share. I haven’t yet been able to find any resources about this topic. Looking forward to hearing from my comrades – feeling the need to age gracefully together, learning from one another and forging new territory for those coming up behind us.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Autism, Social Greetings and Rhetorical Questions

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.

Example: I supported a 6th grader for an hour a day as he entered, checked in at the office, went to his locker, and did a one-on-one “check in” time with him before he left to go to his first classroom. Each morning when Loren arrived I would say, “Good morning, Loren.” Loren would either remain silent or say “Shut up” or “I know that.”

As we walked down the hall to his locker I would tell him it was nice to see him and ask, “How are you?” Loren either would remain silent or give me a detailed run down of all his scrapes and bruises, both current and from years passed!

Once I realized his autistic brain had not picked up the hidden curriculum information in regards to social greetings and rhetorical questions I set about directly teaching this to Loren.

1.  I drew a chart on a piece of paper with columns labeled Social Greeting/Question, Expected Responses and Unexpected Responses.

2.  I wrote in the Greeting/Question such as “Good morning” and “How are you?”

3.  Next, blue index cards were used to write possible expected responses such as “Good morning” and “I am fine. How are you?”

4.  Yellow index cards were used to record each unexpected response such as “Shut up” and “Go away.” A blank card was used to indicate no words spoken.

Loren watched as I made the cards and put them under the columns of Expected Responses and Unexpected Responses. He studied this over, then removed the cards, mixed them up and announced, “I’m doing it myself this time.”

During his first few tries Loren wasn’t sure where to put the cards so I placed a blue card above the Expected Responses column and a yellow card above the Unexpected Responses column. This gave him the visual hint – blue cards in the blue card column, yellow cards in the yellow card column. (It is important to insure success when teaching unknown social information, thus the built in color coding is something I often use. Loren was familiar with my color-coded systems, understanding that if he simply matched the colors he would have the correct answers.) As soon as the color clue was supplied he could line up the blue and yellow cards according to color.

Each day Loren got another chance to line up the blue and yellow cards on the chart, studying over the information. Soon he told me he was ready for white cards. This meant he had mastered the lesson and no longer needed the color-coded hint. The words on all the blue and yellow cards were put onto white cards. Loren mixed up the white cards and sorted them onto the chart correctly! He knew the social information.

Now we needed to bring this information into everyday circumstances because even though Loren knew the information, he was not accessing it in real life situations such as when the school secretary said, “Good morning, Loren.”

First we talked about how others feel and react when we give unexpected responses. Loren saw the benefit in giving expected responses, but this discussion alone did not allow him to access the expected responses in real time.

Next, practice situations with the secretary were set up for the purpose of Loren using a new skill. We practiced five times in a row each morning. I carried the cards with me. When the secretary said, “Good morning, Loren” I gave him the blue cards, each with an expected response to this greeting. Loren could look through the few cards, knowing that any of the responses were okay – he couldn’t go wrong.

This system worked well and within a few days Loren said he didn’t need the cards anymore. What happened next surprised us both! Without the cards, Loren was not able to access the information. We discovered the cards needed to be physically present, even though Loren did not use them. I held the cards in my hand for a few days. Then, we left the cards in Loren’s locker. Sometimes, with a literal and concrete brain, this visual pairing with social information needs to be implemented with a gradual step down to successfully remove the visual.

In successive weeks we added more social greetings and rhetorical questions to our chart. Loren sometimes arrived at school telling me, “I’ve got another one for the chart!” He continued to use this visual system for the remainder of the school year to learn and sort out the information around social greetings and rhetorical questions. In addition, once mastered at school, Loren brought the visuals home where his family helped him bridge the new skills in expanded environments.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on July 29, 2016. To comment click here.

Teaching One Autistic Student to Ask For Help

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.

I discovered that most of Jake’s behaviors stemmed from frustration. Jake knew when he needed help, but did not have a good way to request help. He would make noises of frustration, throw his pencil and tear up his math work. If I wasn’t quickly able to figure out the difficulty and respond in a way Jake perceived as helpful he would direct his frustration at me by hitting, kicking, biting, scratching, swearing or pulling my hair.

During a moment of calm I supplied Jake with an index card that said, “I need help.” We practiced with make believe scenarios where Jake would need help, at which point he would hand me the “I need help” card. I discovered that using this card bought me about thirty extra seconds in which to figure out exactly what Jake needed and to supply it before he would engage in his frustration behaviors.

Next I worked with Jake on how to ask for the specific help he needed. Because he was unable to verbalize what sort of help he needed. I started saying, “Show me” as soon as Jake handed me the “I need help” card. If Jake hadn’t yet started the next math problem I would say, “Get started. Hand me the pencil when you need help.” Both these strategies initially worked well, but after a few times Jake started making noises of frustration when I was using his pencil. Then, he would snatch the pencil from me and finish the problem on his own, the whole time making his frustration keening noises quite loudly. I realized Jake only needed specific help and then could resume the steps in solving the math problem.

Because Jake had previously used “My Turn” and “Your Turn” cards for communication when playing games, I got these cards out, thinking that rather than making his noises of frustration when he wanted the pencil back to finish the math problem he could instead hand over the “My Turn” card. Even though I thought this was a great idea, Jake did not. Each time I got the cards out he would get up and return them to the game shelf.

I then tried a card that said, “Thanks for your help.” I had another student model doing a math problem, handing over the “I need help” card and his pencil, and then, handing over the “Thanks for your help” card at which time I immediately gave back his pencil. Again, I thought this was a great idea, but Jake did not find it useful.

Finally, Jake took out his pencil case, unzipped it and held it out to me, offering me a pencil. We settled into a rhythm, each with a pencil in hand. Jake would work on his math problems. When he needed help he would push his paper towards me where I would do the next step or two. When he no longer needed my help he would put his hand on his paper, at which point I would stop writing. He would take the paper back and finish the problem. This system worked great, but the disadvantage was that I needed to sit next to Jake while he completed each math assignment.

Over time, I first stood up next to Jake and then started moving, first a few steps, and then further and further away while he was working on his math assignment. Even though he had the “I need help” card out on his desk, he did not use it to secure my help when I was not close enough for him to hand me the card without getting up. I did not want to insert a verbal prompt, telling him to bring me the “I need help” card as I knew the verbal prompt would be really hard to drop out.

Instead, I asked the student sitting in front of Jake to turn around and point to the “I need help” card on Jake’s desk as soon as Jake started making noises. I further instructed that if Jake didn’t pick up the card and bring it to me, this student should pick up the card and bring it to me. I wanted Jake to see the card worked the same way whether I was sitting next to him or was further away from him, with the only difference being that he would need to get up and walk the card over to me when I wasn’t sitting beside him. After seeing the student in front of him bringing me the “I need help” card a few times, Jake started bringing it to me himself.

Finally, I had the student in front of him model picking up the “I need help” card and holding it while he simply raised his hand, the typical way students summon help. Three months later, Jake’s noises of frustration and his behaviors had diminished. In addition, Jake was raising his hand to ask for help, sometimes he held the “I need help” card and other times he simply raised his hand.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on July 10, 2016. Leave comments here.

Autistic People: Persons or Projects?

Autistic people experience the world differently than non-autistic people experience the world. One reasons for this difference is the autistic sensory system is quite different from the neuro-majority, which is considered the norm. In addition, the autistic thinking style has differences from the neuro-majority norm.

Autistic Sensory and Thinking Differences
The autistic sensory system takes in information from the environment. This information can come in too big, too small, delayed or distorted. Autistic thinking style is often visual, concrete and many have a thinking-in-pictures style of their own. This means processing can happen visually rather than with words. The processing typically does not happen in real time, but can be delayed for moments or for days or longer. Information storage may not be category based, but instead arranged according to unique schemata. This may make the path of retrieval of stored information take longer.

Example: One time I was in a conference-planning meeting at a new venue. We had just returned from a tour, served ourselves refreshments and gathered at the conference table to discuss business. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bug walking across my shirt. I snatched up that bug and held it out at arms length pinched between my index finger and thumb. A friend sitting next to me asked, “What’s the matter?” to which I replied, “Bug!” She snatched the bug out of my hand and dropped it on the floor.

In the meantime, with my arm still outstretched as if I was continuing to hold up the bug, my autistic brain was busy processing the bug information. My brain thinks visually. I have a visual bug category. It looks like an old fashioned Rolodex where we used to store names and phone numbers before society went digital. My bug storage Rolodex was automatically flipping through the pictures – one bug picture after another. I must say, I am an old lady – at least old enough to have accumulated lots of bug pictures! It takes time to flip through this size Rolodex, looking at each bug picture.

I did not tell my brain to do this, but it is simply the way my brain does business. My brain automatically goes for the match in order to label and thus sort an experience. I needed to look at every bug card in the Rolodex to come to the fact that the bug I picked off my shirt was not a bug at all – it was a peanut skin! I must have dropped the peanut skin onto my shirt when I was eating the peanuts on the refreshment table!

Resulting Behavior
All of these many sensory and thinking differences often mean that the autistic person will exhibit behaviors that people around them find unusual simply because they do not share the experience of an autistic brain. These behaviors are not right or wrong. Instead they are what naturally flow out of an autistic brain. As such, the behaviors do not need to be changed if they are not hurting anyone. Instead, the target of change for behavior that is merely different is not the person exhibiting the behavior, but those around him so they might understand the behavior.

In the above example my holding up the “bug” while waiting for my brain to process the information did not need to change. Instead, people around me needed to be educated in why I was doing what I was doing. What actually happened is that most people ignored me and went on with their meeting. The friend sitting next me did what she thought might be helpful – taking the invisible “bug” and flicking it on the floor.

Societal Response
In situations such as this where an autistic person’s behavior is unexpected, people generally try to be helpful.

Person or Project?
If non-autistic people understood autistic behavior as a natural, reasonable response to the working of an autistic brain it would allow them to have a different response. Right now most people respond to unexpected autistic behavior with the assumption that it is wrong behavior and thus needs to be fixed. When this is the case the autistic becomes a project to be worked on – someone who needs instruction or punishment (depending upon your persuasion) so they can be made to look normal. The underlying assumption is that it is best to look normal. Nobody seems to consider the damage this does over time to autistic people. Thus, it has come to be that most of society views autistics as projects to be worked on so they might change.

I am hopeful that as people come to understand the autistic brain has many differences with resulting behaviors. This blog is addressing most autistic behavior – the behavior that is not hurtful or harmful – the different behavior. (Occasional autistic behavior is harmful in that it hurts somebody or seriously damages property. This blog is not addressing this category of behavior.)

I am giving neuro-majority people a pass – you all no longer need to take on correcting our naturally autistic behavior! Instead, approach it with kindness. Know we are responding naturally in light of our autistic brain. Just like you do not owe us an explanation of your everyday behaviors, so is it that we do not owe you an explanation of our everyday behaviors. Some of us can explain our behavior at times and others cannot. Some of us want to explain our behavior (and have differing levels of access over time to do so) and some of us don’t. Please be respectful and patient.

Also know that because you are the majority you get to bestow upon us the status of “person” or “project.” Unfortunately, even though autistics have long ago decided they are people and not projects, it does not change society’s view. Only the neuro-majority has that power to change societal view of autistics from “projects” to human beings. Ultimately, we welcome you to view us as fellow human beings rather than projects to be continually worked on. This will be more fun and more rewarding for all of us!

2016-06-18 20.13.24

BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean In June 2016