By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
Neurodiversity is on the rise and Einstein is quoted as saying: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. I hope that this increase in numbers will help bring about the changes that I see needed in so many of our systems.
This article will focus on individuals on the autism spectrum, probably the most recognized neurodiverse group, who hold many promising traits to help our society move forward toward peace. Here is what I tend to see that makes me hopeful:
- When describing the right brain, Jill Bolte Taylor explained that it does not distinguish between self and other. So too are those on the spectrum likely to recognize the energy shared between self and others. Many parents describe their children as having the ability to know things about other peoples’ bodies or health. Even non-verbal kids may walk over to complete strangers and point to, or touch, a certain body part that is known to be (then or in the future as) pregnant, painful, or diseased.
- They have a tendency to express themselves authentically, with integrity and honesty, as opposed to using judgement. (Mommy that man is fat is an observational statement and not meant to carry judgement.)
- They most often have a well-developed ability to see the word visually, which provides a different vantage point for understanding and finding solutions.
- They have an ability to look at patterns, without boredom or tedium, to isolate accuracies and inaccuracies.
I know that there are other strengths in the autism community, and I hope that you will share them with me to then share with others.
There’s a famous (and very true) saying that “if you meet one person with autism, you have met ONE person with autism”. It reminds us that while there are many similarities that lead to diagnosis, or recognition, every individual is unique. This is why autism is recognized as a spectrum disorder.
Many individuals still think of autistics as non-verbal children or adults who rock and flap their hands. While these folks are still a part of the autistic community, there is a significant number of higher-functioning autistics. These individuals used to be identified with the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, but that terminology is no longer recognized and was merged into the general ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis in the DSM-5 ten years ago. Since this is a spectrum disorder, there are many individuals who fall within and in-between.
Most of the students that I worked with as an educator, and the clients that I work with now (pre-school through adulthood), are on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum. In addition to the standard developmental and personal topics that come with being human, my focus with them tends to be independent living skills, socialization, and work or school successes.
Society and our systems have failed to provide sufficient and adequate resources to give these higher-functioning individuals in the autism community the chances and the resources to be their best, most successful selves. This ultimately puts a drain on our financial resources as well as limiting our society’s growth potential. (Remember Einstein?)
And what about the more profoundly impacted members of the autism community? Once they age out of the educational community (20-21 in most states, 26 in Michigan) there just aren’t enough resources to care for them. As a result, many parents, especially those of the more profoundly impaired, never “retire” from their job of active parenting. What happens when they are too old to properly care for these adult children with their many needs? I recently watched a documentary called Beyond, which highlighted the difficulties that parents of non-verbal, dysregulated, adult children experience. It highlights the need for residential communities that are designed to recognize, understand, and properly address the sensory, communication, medical, and emotional needs of adults who are unable to live independently. These parents need emotional, financial, respite, medical/dental, and care-giving assistance.
Autism awareness and acceptance moves us to take care of each member of our community: the child, the student, the worker, the adult, and their family members.
And what of Einstein (who is believed to be on the autism spectrum)? When I meet with my neuro-diverse clients, I find that they desire a world of acceptance where all people display integrity and honesty and where there is deep caring for each other. It may not always sound or look like it to those of us who are neuro-typical (NT), but that is because most NTs only know how to see the world through their own limiting, fearful, and judgmental filters. This is why I write, speak, and do my work. My goal is to expand NTs’ understanding to better recognize everyone’s needs as well as their gifts.
It’s time for a new way. I invite you to get to know the autism community even if there is no one that you can get to know personally. (By the way, it is VERY likely that you already know someone, but don’t realize that they are on the spectrum!) Fortunately, there are other ways. Try:
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (fiction, but I found it very realistic, and parents and professionals have loved it)
- Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet
- The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism by non-verbal author Naoki Higashida
- Blogs or books by Rudy Simone and many other autistic writers
- com (“take it from us, we’ve lived it”)
- Temple Grandin’s My Life in Pictures (book or movie)
- Ron Suskind’s Life Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism (book or movie)
- The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism by Kristine Barnett
- Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison
Now that you know a little more, consider asking yourself the following questions:
- What else do I need to know?
- How can I help?
- Is there a system that I can help to create, or to support financially or in another manner to facilitate better access for:
- career/jobs access
- affordable living accommodations
- skill building
- family support
- respite care
- educational support (K-12 and into adulthood)
- appropriate dental and medical care that recognizes the special challenges of treating individuals with highly reactive sensory systems (think tastes, textures, lighting, medical instruments, difficulties with transitions, language barriers, etc.)
It is incumbent on each of us to change the experience for us all. This article has focused on our opportunity to get to know those on the autism spectrum so that they and their families can have an easier experience and be able to live independently when possible. My hope is that someday the qualities that lead to an autism diagnosis will be talked about in terms of strengths and challenges (we all have them!), and that we will interact with this community with understanding, strategies, supports, accommodations, and appropriate placements for the success of every individual.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield, MI. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties, work or school related anxiety, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders, and those who wish to Remember and Become ‘Who You Really Are’. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and email@example.com, and visit www.JudyLipson.com for more information.
This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to replace medical care.