By Guy Shahar
To many who come across autism in passing, it is considered a disability, through which people are rendered in some way deficient, having the handicap of not being able to function as normal people and (this part is usually unconscious) of being less valuable than those who do not have autism.
I would suggest that the reality is starkly different.
The most obvious difference between autistic and non-autistic people is the degree of sensitivity. For an autistic person, opening the curtains on a moderately sunny morning might feel like having a very bright flash-light shone directly into their eyes at close range; a plate falling onto the kitchen floor might sound as disturbing as standing next to loud drilling on a building site without any earmuffs. The National Autistic Society in the UK has produced this very short but powerful film (http://bit.ly/overloadedsenses) to give us a glimpse of what it must feel like to constantly experience this sort of sensory overload.
But rather than being a deficiency, isn’t this a great attribute - an acute ability to perceive the detail of sensory information? Isn’t it a more refined way of using our senses for what they are actually for than the rest of us have? The problem isn’t with the autistic person, who has been blessed with these great abilities, but with the rest of us who have allowed our sensory processing to be blunted in creating a world for ourselves in which constant extreme sensory stimulation is used as a substitute for excitement. We seek out busy environments with flashing lights and loud noises as a means of having what we call a “good time”. We build shopping centres in confined indoor spaces where the sound resonates, and spend hours at a time there. Even the most benign children’s films are aired at great volume in cinemas, with loud, sudden, intense emotive music. Over time, our senses have adapted to the increasing prevalence of this sort of thing as the new norm, and we have learnt to withstand it. The already heightened senses of some autistic people have not. In a world in which we didn’t feel this compulsion to over-stimulate ourselves in this way and unintentionally overwhelm our autistic brothers and sisters, their sensitivity wouldn’t be problematic; it would be a huge strength, as their refined senses would be a great asset to us all. Instead, we curtail this great potential and class them as disabled.
See the Rainbow, Not the Rain Article
"Max is a writer and mentor on the spectrum based in Melbourne. He works for I CAN Network (an autism advocacy group) and Asperger's Victoria."
There are some things you should never, ever do. These include putting metal in the microwave, sneaking up on a grizzly bear and yelling “boo”, and giving someone on the autism spectrum vague instructions.
It’s too often assumed that we are “slow” or “stupid” when what seems like simple instructions leave us befuddled.
Take for example, “can you pop down to the shop and buy some milk?” Sounds straightforward enough, right? But what particular brand of milk did you have in mind? Do you want full fat or low fat? The 3 litre bottle or the 2 litre bottle? Should we get the one that’s on special?
Or how about “meet me on the corner of x street and y street”? If it’s a + intersection, there are four corners, which is the correct one?
There’s an interesting parallel with nature; a very common tactic among prey animals, from fish to zebras to birds, is to flock (basically, to move as a coordinated group) when under attack. The reason for this is that if you present a predator with too many moving targets, whether it be a lion, a shark, or a falcon, they often become confused, and don’t catch any of them.