Autistic, Asperger’s Syndrome, ASD, ‘on the spectrum’, ‘high functioning’, ‘melt-downs’.
These are all terms we hear these days in relation to ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorder. But do you really know what these mean? Are we doing enough as a society to understand this disorder and the legends that are diagnosed with ASD?
ALL the work I do both at the gym and in classrooms, is based around all-inclusive programs that benefit and include ALL children, including those with ASD.
This is a quick guide to this amazing disorder, that will enlighten you, empower those ‘on the spectrum’ and hopefully entertain you too.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder is exactly that – a ‘disorder’ that is diagnosed on a spectrum. For example, we’re familiar with a spectrum for temperature ranging from below freezing to above boiling, well ASD ranges from Autistic, (think Rainman) to Asperger’s (think Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory), and all the rest of us in between. That’s right, I said ‘us’ because after reading this blog, you’ll start to realise that we’re all on the spectrum somewhere!
The closer to the middle of the spectrum you are, the less prominent the symptoms. This is where the term, ‘High Functioning’ comes in. These people on the spectrum are functioning with life, but still have all of the below indicators of the disorder.
EVERY single person on the spectrum is unique, although there are common traits that makes understanding and interacting with those with ASD, easier for all of us. The two MOST important facts that we all need to understand are – ONE: these symptoms are real and can not be ‘switched off’ by someone with ASD and TWO: People with ASD’s brains are wired completely differently to our brains. For example, when we remember something, we think back, we recall the moment or think of the time it happened. A person with ASD will play an entire video reel in their head, replaying the entire situation, the lead up to it and the events afterwards. Now imagine the process these kids go through when we ask, ‘What did you do at school today?’ Exhausting, right?
Here are the main indicators / symptoms of ASD:
- Sensory – People with ASD have sensory ‘misfiring’. For example, they may be oversensitive to light or noise, some can’t handle certain textures of food while others don’t like the feeling of certain materials on their skin. While you may be able to ‘suck it up’ and deal with a loud and crowded, busy, public space, this is a genuine ‘un-doable’ situation for someone with ASD. So next time you see someone wearing sunnies indoors, or skins under their normal clothing, you have a bit more insight as to why they may be doing this. And yes – they are totally cool as well!
- Obsession – all people with ASD have an object, topic, animal, subject, etc that they are fixated with. This one symptom alone is why you WANT an autistic accountant, bank-manager, IT guy, insurance broker, etc. They are OBSESSED with what they do and you will be challenged to find anyone better and more researched in their field than they are. Understanding this obsession is an excellent way to engage in conversation – well that is if you’re up to listening to EVERYTHING there is to know about Meercats or storm troopers. The fixation or obsession is also a way that people with ASD self-regulate and deal with the outside world. They can shut out what’s happening around them, allowing them to deal with tricky situations such as supermarkets, pubs, flights, etc.
- Rules and Routines – it is this point alone that founds the saying, ‘Don’t get into an argument with someone with ASD’. They are sticklers for rules, regulations and routines. If you deter from any of these things, they will let you know about it and are unlikely to forget about it either. This is why catering for ASD children in the classroom or in your household, makes life easier for the rest of the class/house. Everyone knows what to expect, what’s happening when, and the boundaries for each activity. This is also why people with ASD have a genuine struggle with change and disorder. When their routine is shaken up, they have great difficulty coping with life! Children with ASD struggle with fill-in teachers and I’ve known adults with ASD to miss a day of work as their regular bus driver wasn’t there or their tram was late. As I said earlier, we’ve all got traits on the spectrum and most of us can relate to this when we’ve been pushed to our limits all day and then something else goes wrong!
- Socialising – People with ASD do not read social cues, do not get sarcasm, and certainly don’t understand innuendo. This makes ‘having a chat’ or ‘small talk’ a very difficult task for people with ASD. They don’t make eye contact and you should never force them to do so. Stick to the facts, stick to the topic of their obsession and it’s smooth sailing 🙂
- Meltdowns – Imagine a toddler having a full-blown tantrum and you also have an ASD meltdown. As I’ve stated earlier, people with ASD have to learn to self regulate and recognise when they’re getting close to overload. This is why many schools have quiet zones and safe areas for withdrawal, to assist these kids in calming themselves. Remember you can’t ‘talk’ someone out of a melt down when it’s happening. You need to ensure the area is safe from hazard and other children and adults are out of harms way. The situation can be discussed afterwards, with ideas and suggestion for better understanding of the warning signs in the future, but can’t be ‘talked down’ at the time.
With all of the above in mind, I hope you’re painting a better picture and understanding of these incredible people. You would have realised by now that they’re well above average in intelligence (not social intelligence), but need a different approach to their learning or work environment.
So we invite you to celebrate these incredible beings on September 23, for ‘Lift up Autism’. At F1, we’ll be running all-inclusive workouts for adults and children to participate, to help raise awareness and understanding.
See you in the gym!