Over the next few weeks, I am going to be sharing – and busting – some common myths regarding learning differences such as dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and autism.
Myth #2: “We need to make autistic people learn how to act normally.”
When people think of autism, it can conjure up images of anything from hand-flapping and meltdowns, to socially awkward behaviour, to savant-like talents. There is a reason why it is said that when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. It affects each individual in their own beautifully unique way.
Every person is exquisitiely unique. Autism is just one way of being uniquely human.
When we focus on making an autistic person behave more neuro-typically in order for them to seem ‘normal’, we are perpetuating the myth that somehow that person needs changing. Dr Barry Prizant, the author of Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism states that the problem with interventions trying to make an autistic individual fit in is that they “treat the person as a problem to be solved rather than an individual to be understood.”
Prizant encourages parents, educators and clinicians to consider “autistic” behaviours (such as hand-flapping, rocking, and spinning) as strategies to manage in a world that feels chaotic and overwhelming. He suggests a positive approach would be to find out what may be causing these behaviours. By asking why a child is behaving in a particular way allows us to understand and accommodate to their needs. Dr. Prizant also argues that attempts to eliminate “autistic” behaviors may actually interfere with important developmental processes.
Eye contact is another area in which autistic individuals do not ‘conform’ to the expected normal behjaviour – at least not in the Western world. Should we insist on autistic people making eye contact? My answer is simple. No. I don’t believe we should.
Amythest Schaber presents a wonderful video on eye contact from an autistic person’s perspective. She explains that people with autism tend to avoid eye contact for two reasons:
#1. It can feel overwhelming.
A person’s eyes can convey a lot of emotion, and taking in all of that information can feel overwhelming. Some people describe the feeling as being very intense – like looking into a very bright light. Others say eye contact hurts them, makes them feel uncomfortable and confuses them. However it feels, it can contribute to overstimulation and overload of the brain.
#2. It can be difficult to make eye contact and listen to someone at the same time.
Avoiding eye contact allows them to take away the huge amount of rapid info coming at them (from facial expressions and eye contact), which can alleviate the pressure on their brain and allow the person to process and to follow along a lot better than if forced to make eye contact.
So next time the issue of eye contact comes up, consider this question that Ametyst puts to us: ”Would you like me to make sustained eye contact so that you feel more comfortable, or would you like me to hear, understand and remember what you say?”
If you are searching for a positive approach to autism, I would highly recommend the Davis Autism Approach. At the heart of this programme is a deep respect and understanding of autism. That is because it has been created by the autistic genius, Ronald D. Davis, co-author of the book: Autism and the Seeds of Change, with Abigail Marshall. He has dedicated his life to creating this gentle programme that gives autistic individuals the pathway towards creating a true sense of self, gaining an understanding of the neurotypical world (and therefore reducing the overwhelm and chaos) and participating more fully in life, while allowing them to retain their unique gifts.
Ron Davis and myself
A mother of an autistic boy who I worked with recently commented that:
“The Davis Autism Approach does not convey the message that you need to change who you are. Instead its message is: I get who you are. These are the tools that are going to help you become even more who you want to be.
One of the unique things about the Davis Autism Approach®, the thing that makes it different to any other therapy or programme, is that Ron Davis really understands autism from the within. And his programme truly reaches to the core of an autistic individual.
The Davis Autism Approach® programme bridges the gap between the autistic world and this big world beyond, and embraces both worlds so that they are able to work in harmony.”
Here is what her son had to say about the Davis Autism Approach:
For more information on dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, autism and other learning differences, head over to my website: http://www.optimumlearning.co.nz or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you 🙂
Last week’s myth was “Dyslexia is a learning disability”. To read it, click here.
Davis Autism International
Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism
Ask an Autistic – What about Eye Contact?
Autism and the Seeds of Change