The guide below is written by Kerrin Maclean (see her interview from last week here) and originally published on her blog. It is reprinted here with her permission. Kerrin Maclean is an Autism advocate from New Zealand. She vlogs at Aspie Answers, spreading awareness of Autism and invites viewers to witness the everyday life of an ‘Aspie.’ Maclean is also the author of Life of an Aspie and blogs at Life of an Aspie.
Being autistic can be rough. Or having any form of mental health and/or diagnoses for that matter. Yet, it’s up to us to how and what we want to do and achieve in our lives to get to where we want to be. While you may hear negative things about autism, as well as the stereotyping and stigma around this, we need to remember that this isn’t the full picture.
While autism is a neurological developmental disorder, we all have our own quirks and traits for our autism.
Autism does come with strengths and weaknesses and that with our strengths we can do great things in our lives.
METHOD ONE OF THREE: SEEING AUTISM DIFFERENTLY
Learn about autism from autistic people.
Too often, non-autistic people write about autism without consulting real autistic people.And, that for sure, can be a no-no and frustrating.
They may come up with inaccuracies, laughable misconceptions, or extremely negative viewpoints on differences that don’t hurt anyone. Autistic people can provide you with a more accurate and well-rounded view. The Autistic community often describes autism in a neutral or positive light. This may help you gain a more holistic sense of autism, as opposed to seeing only the negatives.
Read about the strengths associated with autism.
Autism is a complex neurological condition that comes with several blessings along with its impairments. You may experience some or all of the following:
Deeply passionate interests. These can lead to tremendous expertise, and possibly a very successful career or fun hobby.
Helpfulness. Autistic people, in general, have a high sense of social responsibility, or the desire to solve problems and help others.
Precision. It is often noted that autistic people focus on the small parts, rather than the big picture. This can lead to remarkable detail-oriented work, where a neurotypical person might be unable to focus so clearly on the individual aspects of something.
Visual intelligence. Autistic people have tested higher on visual and nonverbal intelligence tests.
Sincerity. Autistic people tend to mean what they say, and act as a “voice of reason” without becoming mired in social complexities.
Your honesty and genuine spirit can feel refreshing to others.
Creativity and a unique perspective. Autistic people can learn in unusual ways. This provides insights that neurotypicals may never realize, and can become a great asset in collaboration.
Read about successful autistic people.
Plenty of famous people have been diagnosed or thought to be autistic.
Strong special interests, focus, and a unique perspective can lead to innovation and creativity. Historically, Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson, Mozart and more people were thought to be autistic. Famous autistic people today include Tim Burton,Susan Boyle, Adam Young (from Owl City), Temple Grandin and more.
Consider your special interests.
Special interests are a clear upside of autism: you have an incredible memory about these facts, intense focus, and the ability to act like a walking encyclopedia of information whenever you want.
You also get to have a lot of fun doing the things you love.
Most non-autistic people would be jealous of the way you can recall and discuss information.
Read about the social model of disability.
The social model holds that disability is not caused by defects in the brain or body, but by society’s failure to accommodate and accept a certain variation.
For example, most nearsighted people are not disabled: they are fully accommodated within society (glasses, contacts), and have the same opportunities that non-nearsighted people have. Their body can’t do the same things, but technology makes up for that, so it is not an issue. (I will hope to share more later on about this topic of how it works and if it is accepted in the autistic community)
METHOD TWO OF THREE: HELPING YOURSELF
Remember that it’s okay to be different.
If everyone were just like everyone else, the world would be boring. If we were to be like everyone else, then the world will be just pure black and white. We need to be able to express ourselves and be able to be ourselves and not be able to have permission from others to tell us or dictate to us in how we should speak, act or think. We are all unique. Your quirks are part of what makes you memorable, and you don’t need to censor yourself or try to look “normal.” These days we are all put into a box full of “neurotypical expectations”. We are born to be different and we are born to stand out and not blend in,I believe. It is absolutely okay to be disabled and to look disabled in public.
Find therapies and treatments that work for you.
A good therapy will leave you better off than you were before, and you will gain skills to help you become more well-adjusted. You can also learn coping mechanisms, alternative methods of doing difficult tasks, and how to capitalize on your strengths.
Options include sensory integration therapy, talk therapy, occupational therapy, special diets, behavior therapy, and seeing a psychologist for emotional issues. Always check with a doctor before altering your diet or attempting an alternative treatment.
Be careful about behavior therapies. Some therapies are based on compliance and may hurt more than helping. If your therapist’s goal is to make you more normal (rather than more comfortable or more competent), or if you feel upset and anxious about seeing them, then find a better therapist.
Stop trying to do things that are too hard.
With the media constantly encouraging people to “do your best,” sometimes people forget that it’s okay to quit. You do not have to put forth 110% effort all the time—this can lead to burnout. If something is draining your energy or adding a lot of stress to your life, stop doing it.
Sometimes saying “I quit” is freeing. Disability doesn’t just mean that there are some things you can’t do. It can also mean that some things are painful or extremely draining for you. Give yourself permission to quit or find an alternative way.
Focus on your skills and character strengths.
This will help you spend less energy mourning your disability, and more energy on doing positive things and enjoying your life.Spend time on your hobbies and things that you’re good at. Enjoy the feeling of competence and expertise. Make a list of your positive traits. Consider both personality traits and skills. Place the list somewhere where it’ll be easy to see when you’re feeling sad about yourself. Help other people. Prepare food for the hungry, raise awareness for important causes, or write about your special interest on wikiHow or even write in your personal blog. Effecting a positive change in the world will distract you, help others, and make you feel happier about yourself.
Being disabled can be difficult, and it’s important to treat yourself well.
Cut out energy drains from your life so you can focus on what matters most to you.
Pushing yourself to meet non-autistic standards will only take a toll on your health.
It is okay to ask for academic accommodations, take extra breaks, or quit doing things that are too stressful to achieve. Pay extra attention to general health advice: sleep for at least 8 hours, eat fruits and vegetables, limit junk food, minimize stress, and exercise regularly (taking walks counts). Self-care is extra important for you, to mitigate stress and help reduce meltdowns and shutdowns.If you have trouble with self-care, it’s okay to ask for help. Assisted living, a group home, or living with family might be better for you.
Talk with a doctor, social worker, or therapist if you’re struggling. There’s no shame in meeting your needs, and it’ll free up time for things you love.
Get a mentor (or two).
Look for people in your life whose judgment you trust: parents, older siblings, relatives, counselors, clergy members, friends, etc. Living in a neurotypical world can be confusing, so it’s useful to have people to ask for advice. You can ask questions from “Is this outfit good for an awards ceremony?” to “This person makes me feel awful; what do I do?”
Stop apologizing for being autistic.
You have the right to ask for accommodations, stim in public, and do what you need to do in order to function. Stimming is a release of anything that is stressing the person out.
Toning down your behavior is your choice—not something to be pushed or coerced out of you. You are not required to act more neurotypical just because everyone else is used to it.
Try to stop masking when you can. Masking is linked to mental health risks. Try to be yourself more often.
Recognize that autism is just one piece of who you are—a kind, thoughtful, and lovable human being.
People can love you and your autism. You can love yourself and your autism. You are not a lesser person. Remember that even though autism is part of you, it doesn’t define your entire existence. Autism is a significant part of who you are, but it isn’t all of you. A diagnosis is simply just a label. An integral and whole part of your identity, but a label nonetheless. You are so much more than autism, so embrace your non-autistic-related strengths as well.
Talk to someone if you are overwhelmed by self hatred.
Anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues are unfortunately common in autistic people as well as others that has any form of mental health conditions. Identify someone you trust and explain to them how awful you feel. If you think you may have anxiety and/or depression, try to schedule a doctor’s appointment. The doctor can give you a screening and perhaps some helpful medicine. You are not being selfish or burdensome by sharing negative feelings. People can probably tell if you are feeling awful; they just may not know how to help. If you tell them, this is helpful to them, because then they can know what to do and worry less.
METHOD THREE OF THREE: FINDING AN AUTISTIC COMMUNITY
Surround yourself with positive people.
Look for the people in your life who build you up and leave you feeling better than you did before. Make an effort to spend more time with them. Ask if they’d like to get lunch with you, or if you could get together this weekend. If you usually feel bad about yourself after spending time with someone, that’s an important pattern to be aware of. Figure out why you feel that way, and whether the relationship is worth maintaining.
Meet the autistic community.
This can be done by contacting a friendly support group, or through a search online.
Learn what autistic people have to say about themselves, their symptoms, and the way they interact with the world. Autistic people, in general, are very welcoming to newly diagnosed or self-diagnosed people. Autistic people can offer advice and tips to those in need (and often do so, especially online). The general positivity of the autistic community can help you feel better when you are feeling sad or have low self-esteem.
Avoid people and organizations that dehumanize you.
Some people and groups think that raising “awareness” for autism makes it okay to say horrible things. You have feelings, and you deserve to be treated like an equal human being. Don’t waste time on people who refuse to respect you.Use the block button or unfollow button on social media if an account is negatively impacting your mood or mental health. Mental health is important for us to be well and strong enough to get through the day of whatever arises. We need to have the right frame of mind and attitude to get through it as well. It is okay to cut toxic people out of your life, even if they’re family. You don’t need their negativity, and you’re much better off without them. You are not required to argue that your existence is worthwhile, and it’s okay to decide not to waste your time and energy on them. If you’re stuck with these people, you can either educate or avoid them. Educating them can be done by telling them about autism and making an appeal to their desire to be a good person. If you try this and fail, or if you know that they won’t respond to reason, it’s better to avoid spending time with them and avoid autism-related conversations. You don’t deserve to listen to toxic ideas about your existence.
Get involved with positive autism-related organizations.
They will help you understand yourself better and make a positive contribution to the world. Many autism self-advocacy groups have a large online presence. You do not need to physically go somewhere to get involved. We all need to feel safe, accepted and wanted by anyone that’s a given. If you can’t find in-person autism organizations that are any good, try general disability groups. It can be tremendously relieving to spend time with a group where being disabled is viewed as the “norm”.
Make Autistic Friends.
Along with the usual benefits of friendship, you can share coping strategies, discuss autism together, and be yourselves without any fear. Look for autistic people in autism acceptance advocacy groups, special education (if you go there), or disability/autism clubs.
MY ADVICE FOR YOU ALL
*If you struggle with persistent feelings of sadness related to your diagnosis, tell someone. Talk to someone you trust, or a doctor or therapist. Never be ashamed for having autism. This is what makes a part of you- YOU.
*Some people think autism is a burden. You don’t deserve to be dehumanized by anyone judgmental.