Nearly 1 in every 59 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism each year.
With an estimated 3.5 million Americans living on the autism spectrum, the chances are good that you know and interact with one or more of these wonderful people regularly. No two individuals with autism are the same, but there are some commonalities that can help us learn how to be better friends and neighbors to them.
1. Find common ground.
Some people with autism have trouble making and keeping eye contact during a conversation. Others become fixated on an object and can’t seem to concentrate on the subject at hand.
It’s crucial to show patience and respect in these situations. Try to gently redirect their attention if it drifts from you, be direct but friendly, and practice until you find a way to communicate that works for both of you.
2. Don’t talk down to them.
It seems obvious to speak to others with respect, but many people inadvertently talk to those on the spectrum like they are children. You shouldn’t assume they have cognitive disabilities because they are autistic. If they have trouble responding, it could just mean they need a little extra processing time.
3. Speak clearly and avoid wordplay.
Slang, jokes, and sarcasm are often lost on people with autism. Try speaking in the most literal sense you can to avoid any confusion. Remember not to call them by nicknames like “sweetie” or “honey” either, as that can seem condescending.
4. Give them time to think and respond.
Sometimes people on the spectrum need a little more time to find the right response. Be patient and wait to hear their unique perspective!
5. Be sensitive to sensory issues.
Some people with autism have a strong sensitivity to touch, sound, taste, smell, or light. Be aware of these issues and mitigate them by creating a soothing environment and avoiding noisy, crowded spaces.
For some, physical boundaries can be an issue. If anyone stands too close, touches you too much, or otherwise infringes on your personal space, you should speak up! Tell them directly and clearly to take two steps back.
6. Support the caregivers.
Living with and caring for someone on the autism spectrum can be emotionally and physically draining for some. Don’t forget to give these caretakers positive feedback whenever you can, and try to lighten their load by doing some cooking or cleaning for them every now and then.
7. Have patience in the workplace.
At work, we are presented with a wide variety of people from all walks of life. If a coworker has autism, do your best to communicate clearly with them and give them more time to complete a project. Let them know what they’re doing well, and what they need to work on. Above all, be direct, have patience, and be kind.
8. Give them feedback if they overstep your boundaries.
It’s up to us to tell someone if they’re crossing our boundaries. People with autism can be blunt at times, blurting out their thoughts without considering the potential to hurt others. They’re not doing this to be cruel, so respond with empathy. Give them honest feedback about how their comments made you feel and help them learn from their mistake.
9. Don’t talk about them like they’re not there.
Caregivers and family members can fall into the bad habit of discussing a person with autism as if they’re not even there. Don’t do that. Remember that they are human beings and give them the same respect you would give anybody else.
10. Practice active listening.
Everyone wants to be heard, and people on the spectrum are no different! Active listening means participating in a conversation and withholding comments and advice until they’ve finished talking. It’s a simple way to show someone that they have your full attention.
World Autism Day is April 2, and we hope you will use these tips to form a more productive, fulfilling friendship with the incredible people around you.
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