As Autism Awareness Month continues, it is imperative to incorporate those with the disorder into our communities, and make them feel comfortable enough to establish friendships with them. Although individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) may have trouble interacting with others, that does not mean they want to avoid establishing friendly relationships. Therefore, it is important to understand how to approach those with ASD and make them feel comfortable. Now that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ASD, virtually every grade of every elementary school has a child that is affected by the disorder. Adults and children alike should make more of a conscientious effort to reach out to those affected by the disorder.
As a first impression, many individuals with ASD appear anxious, irritable, or disconnected. Once someone gets to truly know the person, they can see their true characteristics, their strengths, and what makes them unique. A quarter of those affected by ASD are nonverbal, but they may still be able to communicate through writing, sign language, or using other physical motions. None of this diminishes the fact that those with ASD may be very intelligent, capable, and talented people. “I think if Autistic kids could say one thing to people, it would be this: Don’t give up on me”, states Leslie Phillips, mother of a 14-year-old Autistic son.
As we respect Autism Awareness Month, one should consider several things in order to pursue a friendship with those affected by ASD. For one, do not assume that he or she does not value friendship. Although there are challenges communicating with an individual with ASD, that does not mean they will simply disregard any friendship that gets established. One should also be patient with those affected by Autism, and to be sensitive to the fact that they are trying their best to interact. It takes time for those with the disorder to build trust to open themselves to others.
When pursuing a friendship with someone with Autism, you should also speak clearly and effectively. You should speak literally, and not use figures of speech that could be confusing. Gestures, pictures, and expressions, are also very effective at reaching out to someone with ASD. You should also make solid plans to spend time with this person. It is important to spend time with them on a regular basis, and let them know they have someone that they can rely on to sit with at lunch or during a school event.
Most importantly, being friends with an Autistic individual should be based on authenticity, and not be treated like a project. No one is looking for pity friendships, but rather a true bond that lasts regardless of one’s differences. One should respect their Autistic friend’s struggles, and do their best to make them feel comfortable in school or work environments. When an individual with ASD has a strong support system, they will feel more confident in showcasing their personality and their strengths. This will benefit them as they approach higher education and potential employment opportunities.
The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing the programs that are being developed to incorporate Autistic individuals in the workforce, as well as the best educational plans for those with the disorder, in NYC from June 30th to July 2nd. Speakers include Dr. Peter Gerhardt, Founding Chair of the Scientific Council for Autism Research, who will be discussing the important transition from high school to possible employment for those with ASD. To hear Dr. Gerhardt speak, please select tickets here.
As Autism Awareness Month continues, ICare4Autism will be sharing more important facts about Autism, as well as stories of hope. We will be highlighting self-advocates who are able to showcase their strengths and talents, despite their obstacles. We will also share recent research findings, and scientific advances. We hope that you will share these stories, and use the month of April to spread awareness about Autism! Please make a difference, and donate today!