Living with Autism: Learning to accept one's strengths and weaknesses

Life with an Autism Spectrum Disorder can be lonely at times, and presents differently for each individual.

Life with an Autism Spectrum Disorder can be lonely at times, and presents differently for each individual.

Life on the autism spectrum looks a bit different for everyone with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While the different stages or levels of severity can be quite diverse from one case to the next, so are the symptoms, struggles, and strengths of each person with ASD. As different and unique as each autism case may be, the perspectives of those who suffer from autism and its many symptoms will resonate with almost anyone with this disorder. Since autism affects language, learning, emotional intelligence, and behavior, many of the struggles and feelings surrounding this disorder similarly affect the lives of those living with this illness, their families, and their peers. By understanding the inner struggle of a person living with autism we can learn how to better prompt social interactions, and help them to develop a life that supports their flourishing and functioning while nurturing their own individual interests.

Struggling from an early age

From an early age, autism affects a person's ability to communicate, and this can be incredibly frustrating for someone, especially when they're able to listen, hear, and understand the words coming out of the mouths of others. For many, it's difficult to navigate through the maze of their own minds in order to find the right words to say. Emotions are also a struggle, as it may be difficult to understand the words we attach to emotions and translate that into points of reference within themselves in meaningful ways. This means that a person who is suffering from ASD may be experiencing intense, or strong emotions, but they struggle with putting a label or name on them, or making any sense out of them. Yelling can result from an inability to speak when something intense comes up either that the person is feeling, or that they want to express.

Since those with autism typically think in terms of visuals or pictures, they're oftentimes blessed with extremely vivid imaginations that are a bit like watching a movie. Recalling events and information is typically done this way for them. This can make the learning process difficult, as our education systems tend to favor language and written words to facilitate learning over images. As difficult and debilitating as these struggles seem, the good news is that many of these symptoms and struggles may be overcome through early behavioral health interventions.

Overcoming many of the symptoms associated with ASD is the goal of behavioral health services, and many who have suffered with some of the more severe symptoms of ASD have overcome their struggles. In fact, some have gone so far as to achieve higher education goals like getting a PhD. There are many people with ASD who are able to share their experiences now as adults looking back on what it felt like to be a young child who was struggling with speech and social interactions.

Tips for helping someone with ASD adjust

If you're blessed with a person experiencing the special symptoms associated with ASD in your life, having an inside perspective on what this experience is like for them can help as you support them in adjusting to life. Understanding that it may take some time, patience, and the right balance of pushing them hard enough to change, but not so hard that they become frustrated or overwhelmed is important. It can also help to incorporate as many visual tools into their development and learning as possible. It can also help to take a bit of extra time and effort in engaging with a person who has ASD on a social level in order to prompt and promote social interactions. Rather than leaving it up to them to engage in a conversation on their own it can help to ask them specific questions that will prompt them to remember certain experiences they've had, at which point they may be able to describe them (depending on the level to which their language skills have been developed.)

Nurturing the unique talents and gifts associated with ASD

Every person with ASD has their own set of special talents and abilities that set them apart from the rest of the general population. These abilities should be cherished and appreciated, as many may seem superhuman to those of us who do not have ASD. For example, some cases of ASD present with specific intellectual abilities that far surpass the capabilities of the average human brain. For one person this may mean that they can memorize and entire phone book, and retrieve any phone number or address when given a name. Others are able to look at a piece of clothing or furniture for a moment to examine it's structure, and pinpoint one single thread that they are able to pull that will cause the entire garment of upholstery to come apart. Some are able to tell you what day of the week it was or will be when given a date at random in the past or future that is years from the present moment. And many have such vivid photographic memories that they are able to remember very minute detail about the day—replaying each and every interaction as if they're going through a movie reel that's been recorded. Some of these abilities are so profound that they seem completely over the heads of those who do not have an autism spectrum disorder.

Taking the time to learn about the special gifts each person with ASD possesses while teaching them to cherish these abilities can be incredibly healing and empowering for someone struggling to fit in with societal norms and mores. ASD is a very special situation, and it doesn't need to be looked at as someone facing nothing but constant limitations and struggles as it pertains to socialization. There are so many extraordinary gifts that a person with ASD is likely to possess, and so it's important to help facilitate the exploration of such talents in an environment that is safe and supportive.

Behavioral Health Services for ASD

If your child, or someone you know, is facing symptoms of ASD there are behavioral health services that are beneficial for any age group. While early intervention is the most effective, children of any age and adults are able to experience many benefits from this form of therapy. At Big Sky Therapeutic Services we provide a variety of behavioral health services to help children, adults, and their families embrace the struggles and blessings associated with autism. We have programs that are geared toward behavioral modification, as well as programs that help to strengthen the bonds between parents and children while helping the entire family adjust. ASD makes a big impact on everyone it touches, and when we're able to view it from a positive lens and embrace all of the good and beauty that is found within it, we're helping to end the stigma surrounding ASD while healing many of the wounds a person may be experiencing due to their inability to fit in with societal or cultural patterns of communication, behavior, and emotion.

If you’d like to learn more about treating autism spectrum disorders, we’d love to connect with you. Feel free to contact us to gain more information about our facility and the treatment programs we provide, or to be placed on our wait list.

Jayna Nickert