April is Autism Acceptance Month, an opportunity to acknowledge and raise awareness on the challenges faced by people living with autism. It is also an opportunity to recognise the unique talents and strengths of those with autism. This article will briefly describe the relationship between autism and anxiety and how we can better support the autistic community.
What is autism
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition which impacts how people think, behave, perceive and interpret the word and others, and the way they communicate with others. Based on international data, an estimated 1-2% of people in New Zealand are autistic. This equates to approximately 50,000-100,000 people. When talking about autism, it is important to note that no two people may experience and live with autism in the same way. As autism is a spectrum condition, this means that some people are affected more than others. As autism is also a developmental condition, the signs and expressions of autism may look different at various stages of early childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.
It can be damaging to homogenise the diversity of experience present among those on the autism spectrum, but in simple terms, autistic people experience and interpret the world differently to neurotypical people. While there may be commonalities in the way autistic people see and feel the world, the differences in the expression of autistic traits may mean some individuals require varying levels of support. The right form of support – whether that be professional, community, familial or interpersonal support can help those on the spectrum lead fulfilling lives within their communities.
Autism and Anxiety
Anxiety can be experienced by anyone; it is a common response to feeling anxious during stressful or challenging situations. People with autism may experience anxiety in their day to day lives due to navigating challenging or difficult social and sensory environments. It is important to acknowledge that the autistic community may face additional challenges of being misunderstood or feeling less accepted by non-autistic peoples. Many autistic people tend to demonstrate masking or camouflaging behaviours to not be seen as different or ‘fit in’ with groups. This can often take a toll on one’s mental health and may contribute to increased levels of anxiety. Educating ourselves on certain barriers faced by our autistic friends and community can better inform our interactions and awareness in preventing any forms of bias, discrimination or judgement.
Supporting those with autism
Autistic people enrich our communities and lives with their new perspectives, ideas, and way of seeing the world. Whether you currently know and love someone on the spectrum, are supporting someone with autism or simply want to know more, here are some pointers to keep in mind when building positive relationships with people in the autistic community. Although these reminders facilitate conversation with all people, you may wish to adapt different communication strategies depending on the age and ability of the person you are engaging with.
Be patient: when having a conversation, adopt a genuine listening ear and give the person time to answer.
Lead with encouragement and compassion. Perhaps you may reflect on the person’s strengths, qualities, skills, talents, or gifts that you admire and respect and communicate this to them.
Be curious and get to know the person better. You may learn about their interests, hobbies, passions – and maybe even find some commonalities.
If the person you are engaging with is having difficulties sustaining conversation, you may support them by suggesting topics of conversation or presenting a conversation topic you know they will be able to discuss.
Developing a good relationship with anyone is learning how to support them best. Be proactive in asking how you may offer support, how you can be a better friend, or understanding how this person feels valued and loved.
These are some useful pointers but you can read much more here https://www.altogetherautism.org.nz/
Resources for further support: