If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, its that the people who are closest to me understand my autism and do what they can to help support me with it.
Unfortunately I know that other people aren’t always so lucky.
There are still so many misconceptions and stereotypes around autism, with people regularly mocking people on the spectrum or using it as an insult.
I strongly believe that educating people on autism is the best way to help get rid of these misconceptions, and that most of the time people just don’t understand what autism actually is.
One of the things I really want to do this year is to start going into businesses, schools + universities to give talks about autism and how you can help support someone on the spectrum within those institutions.
Most of the time these things are actually really basic, and wouldn’t be hard to implement. But with only 16% of people on the spectrum actually in paid employment, I think this kind of education could go a long way to help improve that number!
Learn Their Triggers
Learning someone’s triggers and making sure to avoid them is one of the best things you can do.
Everyone on the spectrum is different, so asking someone in advance what their triggers are and educating yourself on what overstimulation actually is is a great starting point.
So for example I know that Chris can’t cope with the taste, smell or texture of a lot of different foods, so if I’m making a meal I’ll avoid anything that include these ingredients.
Not just in his meal but in mine too.
Anything can be a trigger, but the main ones tend to be the 5 senses; Touch, Taste, Sight, Sound and Smell.
Flashing lights, sudden loud noises, certain smells, physical contact from strangers, small spaces are just a few of the more common examples.
Stick To The Plan
Personally this is a really big one for me.
If I’m going out with a friend for a coffee at Starbucks and suddenly they change their mind at the last minute and want to go for a meal at Pizza Hut instead, there’s a good chance this will trigger an anxiety attack or even a meltdown.
This is because I have to know for sure exactly what I’m doing and how to do it in advance, especially if I’m having to travel on my own. I’ll be planning out the route in my head, working out travel times and making sure I’ve rehearsed what to say for any social situations.
There are people out there who have laughed when I’ve explained this, but I actually have to plan in advance what drink I’ll ask for and the exact words that I’ll need to say when asking for it.
If I don’t I’m liable to get myself mixed up and ask for the wrong drink or get flustered and say the wrong thing, which can be extremely embarrassing and upsetting.
Obviously plans can change some times, so if that happens just try to give the person as much notice as possible and accept that they might need to cancel if they feel they don’t have enough processing time to familiarise themselves with the new plan.
Support Our Meltdowns
I wish I had the ability to explain just how overwhelming, scary and draining having a meltdown can be.
You become hyper-sensitive to absolutely everything; daylight, the sound of someone breathing, even the feel of your own clothes against your skin can be too much.
But the thing I’ve learnt from personal experience is that trying to stop or mask a meltdown will just make it ten times worse later on, and can result in the slightest thing triggering one.
Usually at the most inconvenient time possible!
If someone is having a meltdown, just do your best to support them while they’re having it.
Where possible get them out of whatever situation is causing it, and give them whatever comfort you can.
I feel like a broken record saying this, but everyone will need different kinds of support when having a meltdown so make sure to talk about this beforehand. Some people might not be able to cope with being touched, while others might find physical contact to be grounding and reassuring.
Finding out beforehand means you won’t accidentally make the meltdown even worse, and that you can give them the best possible support.
The one thing I tell everyone, whether its friends, family or complete strangers is that if I say or do something that upsets or offends you; tell me!
I can guarantee that whatever it is that I’ve said or done was unintentional, but I’m not going to know it’s a problem (and therefor not do it again) unless you say so.
I spend half my life over analyzing every single social interaction I have (both online and in real life), panicking that I’ve said or done something thats considered “weird” or that I might have inadvertently offended someone.
And I’m not going to lie, it’s exhausting!
But if I know the person I’m with will tell me if I’ve done something they don’t like, it lessens the anxiety and I can usually relax and be a bit more “myself”.
Accept Us For Who We Are
Some people will talk too loud, too quietly, too fast, too slow, not enough, too much…please just accept that this is how that person is and don’t bring it up constantly.
I know that from my own childhood, having someone constantly mention that you talk too quickly, or that you don’t talk enough can make you feel really self conscious about your speech.
As an adult I’m constantly monitoring my tone of voice: is it too loud? Am I talking too quickly? Am I talking too much?
Again it’s exhausting having these thoughts constantly going through your head, and can make concentrating on the conversation or task really difficult.
The amount of times I’ve forgotten what I was talking about because my brain has interrupted to tell me I’m talking too fast is ridiculous!
What do you think is the most important way to support someone with autism?