UNDERSTANDING AUTISM – START WITH THE GOLDEN RULE

After his first grade teacher noticed that the Navigator had behaviors consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome, we had our son privately evaluated.

He was given a battery of tests over the course of several appointments. Since the neuro-psychologist couldn’t easily get in and look directly at his brain, she observed his behavior, including his behavior while taking tests to measure things not directly related to his behavior.

His school evaluated him based in part on surveys given to his teacher and us as his parents, with a lot of questions about his behavior. Then a school psychologist observed him in the classroom.

His autism spectrum diagnosis came from conclusions drawn based on his behavior.

Behavior is important to human beings. We communicate with spoken words, yes, but there is so much communication that takes place along with words or in place of words.

People make conclusions about behavior and base decisions about others based on behavior – decisions about personal safety, personal comfort, cultural affinity, among others.

Imagine observing behavior in a public place. Depending on your cultural context, there might be an expectation of behavior in a public place that includes:

  • speaking in a low voice
  • walking, not running
  • non-distracting behavior and small movements that mirror those around them

Or imagine a basic social situation where people are interacting with each other – there might be an expectation of behavior that includes:

  • making eye contact
  • shaking hands
  • engaging in two-way conversation

When people are in a public place or in a social interaction and expected behavior by another doesn’t take place, some might feel discomfort, disapproval, disrespect, or even fear. 

Worse, some might respond out of their disapproval, disrespect or fear, communicating negatively in response.

How might it change people’s discomfort, disapproval, disrespect, or fear if they knew that what they saw as unusual behavior stemmed from autism?

With some on the autism spectrum, any or all of the above expected behavior may or may not happen.

There may be loud vocalization as emotions – excitement, happiness, worry – are processed.

There may be running or spinning or rocking or flapping serving as a way to manage sensory information and emotions.

Eye contact can be intense, even painful, for some on the autism spectrum and many may avoid it.

It doesn’t mean they are not listening, honest, or interested.

Shaking hands might be avoided too, if someone has sensitivity to touch. It doesn’t mean they don’t respect you or want to interact pleasantly.

Autistics might also talk a lot about things that interest them, rather than talk about the topic of the conversation.

This could be because they are nervous and sticking with what they know, or are excited and want to share everything they know.

Someone might speak in phrases from television shows or movies that might directly apply to the situation even if you don’t know how.

They may not speak at all, either because they communicate in other ways, or because they experience mutism when feeling strong emotions.

They can still hear you and still understand what you say.

Almost every major faith in the world has similar a rule for how to treat others:

This is the sum of duty: Do not unto others which would cause you pain if done to you – Brahmanism

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful – Buddhism

Do for others what you want them to do for you – Christianity

Surely it is the maxim of loving kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you – Confucianism

No one of yours is a believer until he desire for his brother that which he desires for himself – Islam

What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow men – Judaism

Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss – Taoism

Simply put, if you encounter unusual or unexpected behavior by someone: Don’t judge

Instead, understand you might be seeing autism and have faith that there is a good reason for it:

Assume unto others that unexpected behavior has a good reason 

Awareness - Just the Beginning