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Exploring Autism with CESJDS Students

Something I constantly like to mention to friends, family, and colleagues, is how insightful the questions from some of my fourth-grade audiences are. So, I’d like to share some of my favorite questions from a recent group (the amazing students at CESJDS). Enjoy!


Note: Some questions have been slightly edited for clarification purposes.

 

Question: Is it difficult being Autistic? Do you like being Autistic? And what challenges do you have?


Answer: I wouldn’t say it is difficult or easy being Autistic. It offers various challenges and opportunities for me, and along the way, I have to deal with them. Some challenges I face are building friendships, attending loud events like concerts or parties, and releasing my energy (stimming) in a healthy and non-distracting way. I love being Autistic and I would not change a single thing about who I am, and that is what is wonderful about life. People are unique and different and that is what makes the world great!


Question: Do you ever get overwhelmed? How do you deal with that?


Answer: Everyone can feel overwhelmed at times and I am no different. For example, when I was with my grade visiting Boston we had done a lot of activities. My friends were getting a little loud and I was feeling overwhelmed. My number one advice for whenever you get overwhelmed is to take a break! I went to sit down on a bench at the side and did a breathing exercise. 


Question: Is it painful to have Autism? Physically or emotionally?


Answer: I am Autistic all the time. This means that there are moments where I may be overwhelmed because of a part of my Autism, and there are other moments where my Autism may help me in a situation. So, while sometimes I might experience emotional or physical pain due to an Autism-related stress trigger, it isn’t all of the time, and most of the time I can use my Autism to help me. 


Question: What are some strategies for interacting with Autistic people?


Answer: 

  1. Ask them what they need. Each Autistic person is different so interacting with each of them will be different.

  2. If they ask for space – give them space. But always check back in. They may change their minds.

  3. Think about what may be challenging for Autistics and ask yourself: how can I help them through those challenges?

  4. Be kind! And treat them with respect just like you would with any other person. 


Question: Is it hard to talk and interact with people?


Answer: Yes, It is difficult for me to interact with people. This is because social interaction is like a second language for me. Certain social skills, like recognizing social cues, starting a conversation, and understanding certain dynamics do not come to me. It has taken a lot of work to understand these social skills and to practice them. Despite all of this, social interactions are highly rewarding and while they are challenging for me, I think it is valuable. 

  

Question: Are there any kids that are mean and rude to you since you have Autism?


Answer: Yes, but thankfully it is rare. Unfortunately, some people are mean to others simply because they are different. Some of these people are outright bullies, others just think it is funny to point out the “flaw” of someone else, and the vast majority of these people are uneducated. That is why I find it so important to educate others. The majority of the time, the people who say mean things are unaware of the impact their actions have on others, and they are also usually unaware of what Autism is and the challenges and opportunities it presents to Autistic people. On a personal note, I have been lucky to be surrounded by inclusive communities that have similar views to my own – acceptance and inclusion make us better people.


Question: What are some strategies that you have for when you have a sensory breakdown?


Answer: That is such a good question! I think my answer will be too long for this format, so I am going to write a separate blog on this and make sure your school gets a link to that blog. Thanks for the question!


Question: Of the 5 senses, what is your favorite to help you calm down?


Answer: My favorite ways to calm down are to sit in a cool room, take a warm shower, or be under a weighted blanket. I think this probably would fall under touch. I think that is notable because the sensory calm is delivered straight to me and can be used for as long as I need. 


Question: When were you diagnosed with Autism?


Answer: When I was two, which is quite common for Autistics. That being said, I wasn’t told I was Autistic until I was in the second grade.


Question: For me, taking a nap helps when I am sad. Is it the same for you?


Answer: Sure, taking a nap can be helpful in certain situations. Unfortunately, it isn’t always a realistic solution when you are far from home. But it does offer your body an opportunity to reset and refocus.


Question: I have ADHD, which means I can't focus and I might do stuff that is uncomfortable for those around me. I wanted to know if some disabilities have things in common.


Answer: Sure. There are a lot of things that disabilities have in common. When it comes to the big picture, everyone who has a disability interacts with the world in a way that is different from most people. For example, physically disabled people may need to use elevators or ramps to move around and many deaf people use sign language to communicate. ADHD and Autism are both developmental disabilities meaning that people who have ADHD or Autism have their brains develop differently from most other people. It doesn’t mean it’s bad – it comes with unique challenges and opportunities. One commonality between Autism and ADHD is that most people with each condition like to stim (release energy through fidgeting or other means). When done correctly, stimming helps Autistics and those with ADHD concentrate and contribute in meaningful ways. 


Question: Have you gone to a party and if so, did you like it? 


Answer: I have been to parties before. When I was younger I went to a lot of bar/bat mitzvah parties and just recently I was at my high school prom. Going to parties is difficult for me because of the high noise level and social demands. This can make me feel overwhelmed and stressed, and I tire very easily. Thankfully, I use multiple strategies to manage this: I hang out with friends, I wear noise-canceling headphones and I take breaks when needed. I am not a big dancer so I don’t participate in the traditional sense, but I have plenty of fun by spending time with my friends and talking to new people.


Question: Do you get pulled out of class for small groups?


Answer: Not anymore, but I used to. When I was in kindergarten, I was part of a program that prepared me for elementary school by having me in both a special setting and a regular classroom. I was able to develop skills and strategies that helped me succeed later on. In elementary and middle school I took time out of my day to participate in occupational therapy (which helped me with fine motor skills) and speech therapy. Also, in elementary school, after school, I participated in social skills groups.


Question: Do you take medicine for being Autistic?


Answer: No. Currently, there is no medication to ‘treat’ Autism. Many Autistics, including myself, are wary about a cure or treatment because Autism is a core part of who we are. Regardless, I do take anti-anxiety medications which can be useful during a sensory overload.

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