When you see someone with autism, who do you see?

I’ve been working with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for a while now – for the sake of keeping me young, let’s just say it’s been over 10 years.  In those many years, I’ve met people who were so called “low functioning”, “high functioning”, dually diagnosed… You name it, I’ve met it. Most of all, I have met PEOPLE. They were children, teenagers, adults and elderly.  Some of them loved different languages, others had a passion for Legos, some understood the NYC subway system better than many! My life has been deeply enriched by these encounters.

When I see someone with ASD, I see a person.  I see likes, dislikes, smiles, frowns.  I see the way they look at their loved ones.  Yet, I have met so many people in this field (professionals and parents) who have such a difficulty seeing the person and are stuck on seeing “the autistic”.  Let me tell you how they are different:

  • When you see the “autistic” you will relate to the deficits, you will focus on what is not there, and you will try to fix it. When you try to “fix it”, you immediately assume that there is something wrong, that there is something that cannot be accepted.  Your treatment approach will be to correct, to shape, to contrive.
  • When you see the person, you will look for strengths, you plan supports, you will focus on what is there and can grow. You accept the person as he or she is, and you look to create conditions for the thriving of the abilities.

If you haven’t yet, I invite you to meet the person with ASD in your life. Really meet them. Look them in the eyes (even if you have to bend yourself to meet their eyes), smile at them, and watch their expressions. Watch the glee they express when they are engaging in their favorite activity—wonder about it! What is it in that activity that makes it so interesting? Can you relate to it? Can you find ways to engage through that activity?

Here is how dictionary.com defines “engage”:  to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons).   How will you occupy your efforts with someone with ASD? “Fixing” autism or relating to the person in front of you?

Leave a comment below, and let us know all the ways in which you connect with the people with ASD in your life. Let us know who you see.

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