People with autism behave in ways that go against the script that many of us are used to. Because of this, it can be hard to tell just from intuition what someone with autism might need.
For example, regarding communication, it can almost be like learning a new language to accommodate an autistic loved one. People with autism also have to learn the language of non-autistic people in order to communicate. For both parties, this communication definitely does not come naturally. It can be frustrating when you want to help your loved one but don’t know what they need.
From the perspective of an autistic person, here are some things you can do to help your autistic loved one.
1. Accommodate their sensory needs.
Every person with autism has different sensory needs. Some are more sensitive to certain stimuli than others.
Pay attention to how your loved one reacts to different stimuli. Doing little things like keeping the car radio at a lower volume or using less Febreze when you clean could make a world of difference.
Often, little sensory annoyances can add up and lead to a meltdown. Some people believe that it’s important to desensitize people with autism to sensory stimuli, but this needs to be done carefully in a controlled environment.
2. Let them be themselves.
There are times when people with autism must put on a mask in order to function in society. However, when they’re relaxing at home, it’s helpful for your loved one to be able to interact with the world on their terms. It’s similar to how many people change into jeans or sweatpants once they come home. If your loved one doesn’t want to make eye contact or wants to flap their hands, let them if it’s not hurting anybody.
3. Listen to people with autism, not just organizations.
Some organizations are widely disliked by people with autism for reasons that aren’t common knowledge to neurotypical people (people who do not have autism or a similar disorder). Some of these organizations spread misinformation that hurts the autism community.
Many popular books are also full of misinformation. People with autism are the experts on what it’s like to live with autism. Scientists who study autism and family members who observe autistic behaviors do not have the same insider access to information.
4. Treat them like their age.
Infantilization is an unfortunately common experience among people with autism. Because of the odd behaviors that people with autism exhibit and the interests they may have, many believe that they have the mental age of somebody much younger.
This vastly oversimplifies the situation and overlooks the capabilities of the individual. A person who is twenty years old still has twenty years of life experience even if they don’t know how to drive or cook.
Autism doesn’t stop the brain from growing. Most people with autism are more than capable of understanding the world around them. Treating your loved one with the same respect you would treat any adult their age is an important way you can support them.