Celebrating Strengths During Autism Awareness Month
Posted on 03/25/19 in Advocacy by Nathan Morgan, MSSA, LSW
As we enter the month of April, International Autism Awareness Month, I like to reflect on how far we’ve come with understanding autism, but also how far we have left to go. The main thing I’ve observed is that people on the autism spectrum are often underestimated and misunderstood. I’m here to set the record straight. Those of us with autism have many strengths, some of which are directly linked to our autism traits. Here are just a few examples:
As you may know, people with autism often have very intense areas of interest, be it dinosaurs, train schedules, or the mating habits of an obscure variety of finch. To an outside observer, this strong interest can be viewed as quirky, maybe even just plain weird. However, I personally think that this can be one of the greatest things about having autism and here’s why: people with autism tend to find things that captivate our imaginations, motivate us, and move us forward. Through our interests, we can make our mark on the world, whether through research, categorization, writing fan fiction/literature, or other methods of sharing with others how great a certain topic can be. People can go their whole lives without ever feeling this sense of passion, but it can come so easily to many with autism. I think that’s a beautiful thing.
Abundance of Empathy
There is a misunderstanding that people with autism lack empathy because we can be too straightforward. That’s not the case at all. Researchers have found that there are different types of empathy. There is cognitive empathy, a person’s ability to think about the thoughts and feelings of others, and emotional empathy, a person’s ability to feel the feelings of others. Some research suggests that people with autism have less cognitive empathy than people without autism, but much higher emotional empathy. In other words, when you’re overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, a person with autism may not know the specific reason why you’re feeling that way, but may share the emotion with you.
Honesty and Integrity
People with autism have difficulties with social communication. Some of these differences can make it harder to “read between the lines” in social contexts. We also tend to have a harder time predicting what others may expect of us in social interactions. That’s not always a bad thing. Our difficulties predicting what other people are thinking can make it harder for us to successfully lie and manipulate. This trait is also why people with autism are typically viewed as more trustworthy. Don’t get me wrong, people with autism absolutely do lie, we’re human beings just like everyone else, many of us just happen to be very bad at it. In some cases, we might also lack filters and overshare or are too blunt in our communication. However, since it is difficult for us to deceive others, when you interact with a person with autism, you can rest assured that at the very least, the person with autism is being authentic.
People with autism have many traits, certainly more than I’ve mentioned, that may on the surface appear to be negative. However, when you look a bit deeper, it isn’t hard to find that these traits can be every bit as positive. People with autism have passions and purpose in their lives. We also care very deeply. Sometimes some of us may seem a bit “robotic” or blunt to outsiders, but we have a rich inner world that we are eager to share if given the opportunity. We can be great friends, romantic partners, students, teachers and colleagues. There are more people with autism than you might think. And in the words of famed autism self-advocate, Temple Grandin, we’re “different, not less.”
Nathan completed professional internships at Milestones Autism Resources and Achievement Centers for Children. Prior to returning to Milestones, Nathan was employed full-time as an Early Childhood Mental Health Social Worker at Achievement Centers where he provided consultation and therapeutic services to young children and their caregivers. Nathan is also an autism self-advocate who has shared his experiences on panels, at events, and on the local news. He is passionate about teaching and autism-related research.