AUTISM AWARENESS - Behaviors, Education, Resources and More.
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
What is Autism?
I can’t improve on Dr. Nick Walker’s description any better, so I’ve quoted him below.
"I’ve seen so many versions of that obligatory “What Is Autism” or “About Autism” text. And they’re almost all terrible. For starters, almost all of them – even the versions written by people who claim to be in favor of “autism acceptance” or to support the neurodiversity paradigm – use the language of the pathology paradigm, which intrinsically contributes to the oppression of autistic people. Since I couldn’t find such a piece of text elsewhere, I wrote one. And here it is."
"Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterized by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable."
"Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals."
"According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism."
"Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes more subtly."
"Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that Autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation. Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact." Copyright © 2016 by Nick Walker
Sensory overload is when an autistic person finds it difficult to process their feelings or other sensory information, and go into a state or breakdown.
Sensory overload can be triggered by a number of things, and differs from person to person. Many, autistic people have trouble processing loud or complex noises, textures of materials they can touch or see, among other things.
The word stim is short for self-stimulation. Stimming is something an autistic person does to make themselves feel good and keep themselves comfortable and to relieve tension.
Autistic people often have things they do to Stim, which may include physical activities, such as chewing or biting down on things, or mental activities, such as listening to specific sounds or looking at specific textures or images.
Why Stim ?
Stimming can help BLOCK out extra sensory input.
Stimming helps provide EXTRA sensory input when needed.
Management of emotions - positive and negative EMOTIONS may trigger a burst of stimming.
SOME stims serve the purpose of soothing or comforting.
"A stim is not the same as a tic. Where stims are rhythmic and regular, tics are non-rhythmic and sudden. Both can (sometimes) be held back, although holding back both feels very uncomfortable. While holding back a tic seems closer to holding back a sneeze, I would say that holding back a stim could be compared to holding off on scratching an itch (if that itch never went away, and kept increasing with time, like a mosquito with its nose in your flesh that refuses to leave)." - Kirsten Lindsmith, from her blog: The Artism Spectrum
The most famous hallmarks of autistic stimming can be divided into three major categories:
Hand stimming, including hand flapping, finger waving, and finger wiggling, clapping hands, snapping fingers
Body stimming, including rocking, spinning, and head bobbing, squinting, rolling eyes, swinging, grinding teeth, licking, chewing and sucking on objects, staring at moving objects, wheels, trains for long periods of time.
Vocal stimming, including humming, throat clearing, groaning, screeching, dropping things to hear their sound and various forms of echolalia. Learn more about echolalia HERE.
HARKLA also lists the best stim toys to improve focus in autistic people on their website HERE.
Stimming with Music
Many autistic people have certain songs that help them to stim. For love of these songs, autistic people will often listen to them over and over again, to help them feel good. These certain songs or sounds often make the person who uses them to stim feel very happy and very comfortable, often causing them to feel overstimulated and excited (which is sometimes why some autistic people love to do "happy hands").
No eye Contact - Some, not all autistic people do not like eye contact as it is too intimate and intense and they will avoid. It can even cause pain if forced.
Sitting in certain positions - Some, not all autistic people are often very bendable. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a common comorbidity and many autistic people feel more comfortable in slightly contorted positions.
Stammering when excited - Some, not all autistic people often get so passionate about some subjects, that they can struggle to get the words out as they all get caught in the annoying bottleneck of actually having to leave their mouths.
Facial movements + stretches - Part of stimming, really, as it's generally a comfort or stress release mechanism. It is a harmless, natural action.
Meltdown - There is nothing abnormal about having a meltdown - all humans can. It's just autistic stress levels are so high that they tend to happen more frequently. But they're seen as failing of the autistic people rather than a failing of their surroundings, which is more accurate.
Rigid routines - Many autistic people like this as it removes possible stressors from the day, keeping things nice and calm. It is not weird or bad, it is a perfectly sound way of managing stress. They can find change and transitions difficult to cope with. They might like to eat, sleep or leave the house in the same way every time. For example, children might go to bed happily if you follow their regular bedtime routines, but won’t settle if the routines are broken. They might get very upset if their route to school is changed, or they might insist on putting their clothes on in the same order each morning.
Rituals - Some autistic children and teenagers have rituals. For example, some children might keep favorite objects in specific places, like the bottom corner of a drawer in the bedroom. They might have to get their objects out and touch them before bed. Or they might drink only from particular cups, or ask the same questions and always need specific answers.
Organizing, lining up, collecting things (obsessions) - autistic people can be very intense and focused about favourite toys, activities and topics of conversation. Some autistic people move from one interest or obsession to another, and the interests last for weeks or months before they change. Others develop an interest – for example, in trains – in early childhood and continue this interest through adolescence and into adulthood. Organizing, lining up and stacking objects is a form of stimming.
"So when you see an autistic person engaging in repetitive behavior (organizing, lining things up, collecting things), instead of thinking “that kid is doing nothing,” think “that kid’s brain is hard at work.” They may be imagining something, reviewing something that happened, or trying to figure out the answer to a question." - Miss Luna Rose
To learn more about autism obsessive behavior, routines and rituals, click HERE.
How To Help
Autistic people experience sensory overload differently. There are however general rules. You should always minimize sensory input for the person experiencing overload. This means that you should stop doing whatever you think could be triggering their overload. Which can be anything from:
Lowering your voice and muffle or silence all noise - which will help to ease the overload over time and prevent it from getting a lot worse.
Dim the lights
Do not touch the person overloading - this may be uncomfortable for them.
Please take an autistic person seriously when they are overloading. They are not doing this for attention, this is not an intentional thing. Many autistic people, children especially, are not taken seriously when they are overloading, which can lead to more issues. Please take note if you are a guardian, teacher, family member, friend etc.
Include autistic people in your activism.
Learn More About Autism
The Autism Advantage - Trade secrets from the autistic mind: How autistic people think, and what we can learn. Click the link HERE to go to the website.
The Autisticats - An awesome website by three autistic young adults, (Eden & Leo, Laurel) figuring out life and sharing their experiences as neurodivergent people. Click the link HERE to go to their website.
TED Talk - Autistic Thriving by Dr. Dawn-Joy Leong - Click the link HERE to watch. Thank you Eden (of the Autisticats) for the link!
Autistic Dreams - A wonderful website by writer and artist , Miss. Luna Rose. Click the link HERE to go to her website.
Autistic & Unapologetic - An autism awareness site founded by one lad (James Sinclair) on a journey to find out what makes him (autis)tic. Click the link HERE to go to Jame's website.
Neurocosmopolitianism - A website by Dr. Nick Walker which features his academic work, articles, aikido, autistic press and a webcomic! Click the link HERE to go to his website. Click HERE for Dr. Nick Walker's Bio.
The Art of Autism - Dana Trick's blog post, "We Gotta Talk About The Representation of Autistic Characters in Fiction" is a must read. Check it out HERE.
Wrong Planet - A web community designed for individuals (and parents of) autistic people and ADHD. Click the link HERE to go to the website.
The Australian Parenting Website - Signs of autism in children, teenagers and adults. Click the link HERE to go to the website.
Links + Resources - Click HERE for more links and resources for Autism Screening Tests, Social Resources, Website + Pages, Books and Blogs. Thank you to Kirsten Lindsmith, an artist, writer, software developer, and autism advocate for this list that she has included on her website.
The Autisticats - @the.autisticats
Greta Thunberg - @gretathunberg
Autism Sketches - @autism_sketches
Paige Layle - @paigelayle
Pierre Owens - @pierreow7
Kala Allen Omeiza - @readbykay
Our Autism Diary - @ourautismdiary
Christee Cuttino - @artistically8wired
Autistic Self Advocacy - @autisticselfadvocacy
Autie Advice - @autieadvice
Speech Hiccups - @speechhiccups
Allison The Human - @allisonthehuman
The Autistic Life - @theautisticlife
OMG I'm Autistic AF - @omgimautisticaf
The.Chronic.Couple - @the.chronic.couple
Fidgets.and.Fries - @fidgets.and.fries
Actually Autistic Tik Toks - @actuallyautistictiktoks
StudioMucci - @studiomucci
TV + Films
"Why do we care if films and TV shows that are ostensibly well-meaning don’t center us? While things are improving, the majority of neurodivergent and disabled characters are still portrayed by abled actors, meaning that neurodivergent and disabled actors get less opportunities. Not only that, but film and TV impact how we understand the world, and a dominating, stereotypical representation of autism has a tangible impact on autistic people’s lives." - Marianne Eloise
Everything's Gonna Be Ok - (Freeform) - An American comedy television series created by autistic Australian comedian Josh Thomas. Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, according to the CDC. Not only does this Freeform series offer a female perspective, but actress Kayla Cromer, who plays Matilda, is on the spectrum herself. Nicholas, an Australian in his twenties, visits his American father and two teenage half-sisters in Los Angeles. During his visit, he learns that their father is terminally ill and wants Nicholas to become the guardian to Genevieve and Matilda, because their mother is already dead
Sesame Street - It’s about time that the classic children’s television show introduce a character on the spectrum. Enter Julia, an adorable muppet of a girl who effectively teaches children at home about the differences and similarities of autistic people. (Note: At the time of writing this post, I was unaware of Sesame Street's connection with Autism Speaks which is considered a fear mongering hate organization by many autistic people. Read more HERE . )
Three popular PBS KIDS animated series are debuting new themed episodes timed to Autism Acceptance Month, including a half-hour special from Hero Elementary , a special episode of Emmy Award winner Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood featuring a bright young guest star, and a new profile in history from Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum, based on the bestselling books by Brad Meltzer. Read more HERE .
She-Ra: Princess of Power and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (Netflix) - Entrapta is a fictional character in the animated television series, She-Ra: Princess of Power and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Board artist Sam Szymanski, who is autistic, plays a major role in creating Entrapta, including her physical actions and story arcs.
Atypical - (Netflix) - An American comedy-drama series that focuses on the life of 18-year-old Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), who is an autistic young adult. The first season received mostly positive reviews, though the show was criticized for its lack of autistic actors and perceived inaccuracies in its depiction of autism. The second season featured more autistic actors and writers, and also received mostly positive reviews. The third season continued this development and received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
I am Greta - (Hulu) - The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary. Starting with her one-person school strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament, the film follows Greta, an autistic shy student, in her rise to prominence and her galvanizing global impact as she sparks school strikes around the world. The film culminates with her extraordinary wind-powered voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.
Autistic actors are actually not as rare as you may think and it only takes a quick Google search to see a plethora of referenced responses including:
Daryl Hannah (see IMDB for a list of her films HERE)
Paddy Considine (see IMDB for a list of his films HERE)
Dan Aykroyd (see IMDB for a list of his films HERE)
Brandon Polansky & Samantha Elisofon (Keep the Change)
Tylan Grant (see IMDB for a list of Tylan's films HERE)
Sir Anthony Hopkins (see IMDB for a list of his films HERE)
Kayla Cromer (see IMDB for a list of her films HERE)
Josh Thomas (see IMDB for a list of his work HERE)
Click HERE for a few more TV and movies with Autistic characters.
Eden (of The Autisticats) Autism Related Songs Playlist on Spotify - Click HERE to go to Eden's playlists. (Note: There is a FREE option to join Spotify. Just sign up, no credit card information is asked of you. It is totally free, it just includes advertisements / commercial breaks unlike the paid version which doesn't interrupt with adverts.)
Leo of (The Autisticats) Original Songs on Spotify - Click HERE to listen to Leo's original songs!
History's Most Inspiring People on the Autism Spectrum
Though autism did not become the mainstream diagnosis it is today until well into the 20th century, it is certainly not anything new. Indeed, history is full of people who many consider to be or have been somewhere on the autism spectrum. Like the 30 people on this list HERE.
While autism remains relatively misunderstood, one thing is for certain: autistic people are just as capable as anyone else of achieving incredible success. The proof? These famous autistic people: 20 Incredibly Successful People on the Spectrum. Read more about them HERE.
Amazing Autistic Women - These women confirm that differences cannot prevent one from doing what one loves—or shattering glass ceilings. Read more about these amazing women HERE.
Greta Thunberg - A Swedish environmental activist who is internationally known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action against climate change. Learn more about Greta when she was named Time magazine's 2019 Person of The Year, HERE.
Paige Layle - Canadian teen shatters autism stereotypes. Read more about Paige HERE.