By Jennie Young
Autism is a very complex disorder. Each person affected by autism is affected in a different way. How they are affected can change depending on what stage in their lives they are at, what kind of care and treatment they receive, and what is causing their autism. Experts believe there is not one singular cause to autism, but rather many. Some of the most commonly thought of causes of autism are chemical imbalances, viruses, and lack of oxygen at birth. Another cause of autistic behavior would be Fragile X Syndrome, a disability of one’s learning abilities that can be inherited. Warning signs of autism can come in different forms. They include not responding to one’s name by the age of twelve months old, tuning people out, not knowing how to play with toys, being overly active, uncooperative, and resistant to discipline. Many of these things can make interacting with people with autism a fragile, difficult situation.
One of the most important things one can do when interacting with someone who has autism is becoming aware of the way they communicate. People with autism don’t always communicate with words but, rather, with hand movements, pictures, crying, or even just looking at something. Each person will be at a different stage in his ability to communicate with people. Identifying the person’s communication level is an important step in communicating with them. The four basic stages of communication are the “own agenda stage” in which a person appears uninterested with people around them and prefer to do things alone. The “requester stage” occurs when people with autism notice that their actions affect other people. The third progression is the stages of communication is the “early communicator stage”. This stage is the progression into more direct interactions. They become able to communicate their needs and wants in new ways such as repeating things they have heard other people say and becoming more direct with their words. The last stage is the “partner stage”. This final phase of communicating is reached when a person can successfully carry out a short conversation with speech. This stage may be hard to notice if the person gets comfortable communicating in one place with specific people, but when their environment changes they become uncomfortable communicating.
When interacting with autistic people, it’s important to keep in mind that it may be hard for them to understand what someone else is trying to tell them. This means saying as few words as possible but still communicating a message. One may need to slow down and repeat himself a few times in order for the person to comprehend. It is important to pause after an important sentence or phrase to let the autistic person process and produce a response to what was said. Using gestures and hand motions will help the person understand what another is trying to communicate. For example, shaking the head, waving, and pointing can all be good ways to support words in a way they might understand better. Another important thing one can do when interacting with an individual who has autism is to keep in mind the individual’s pace. When it comes to explaining processes, for example, it is important to remember that an autistic person may take a longer time to process directions and to complete a task.
Patience is a most helpful quality when working with people who are autistic. When interacting with those who have autism it is also important to remember that they may have difficulty reading social cues. Things such as sarcasm and sarcastic tones may be difficult for them to recognize. Finally, when interacting with individuals who have autism, it imperative to remember to be patient and to use body language and hand signals.