What Is Autism?
At Whole Family Health, we believe ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is very similar to being left-handed. Some people in the world are left-handed and some people are right-handed. There are advantages to each and there is nothing “wrong” with either; they’re just different. The problem for those of us who are left-handed, however, is that there are more right-handers in the world than left-handers. The consequence of that is that most of the world has been set up by right-handers in ways that make things easier for right-handers. And although every so often, someone invents a pair of left-handed scissors, by and large, we left-handers have to try to cope in a right-handed world.
In the old days, left-handed children were often forced to learn to write right-handed and even now, left-handers are still blamed for knocking elbows with right-handers at the dinner table (trust me – it’s the right-handers that throw their elbows about! We left-handers have learnt from a young age to keep our elbows in so we don’t get in trouble!) But over time, doctors, teachers and society in general realised that no amount of writing with your right-hand makes a left-hander right-handed. And slowly, more left-handed products came on the market to help make life easier for left-handers.
Isn’t it time we do the same for people with ASD?
How Is Autism Treated?
Firstly, let’s be clear that we don’t “treat” autism. It can’t be “cured” because people with autism aren’t “broken”; they’re just different. People with autism have a different way of perceiving and relating with the world than people without autism. Or, you could just as validly argue that people without autism have a different way of perceiving and relating with the world than people who are autistic! Maybe, even though we’re more numerous, we’re the unlucky ones – those of us without autism don’t get to experience the world in the same way! We might be missing out on all sorts of things that we’d never know about if we didn’t have people with autism to show us (think of Temple Grandin’s revolutionary work in improving animal welfare by considering things from the cattle’s perspective and seeing patterns in their behaviour – her ideas are now world’s best-practice).
Secondly, you might be confused because you’ve met someone with autism in the past, and the person you know who has just been diagnosed doesn’t act the way the person you knew in the past did. This is because it’s very true when you hear the saying, “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Just like how everybody who is “short” is not exactly the same height, everybody with autism is not exactly the same, either. The two basic criteria for an autism diagnosis are restricted or repetitive behaviours and social difficulties. Some people with autism may have incredibly rigid behaviours, but cope okay in social situations for short periods of time; others may not be able to tolerate even the smallest changes in routine and may avoid social situations at all costs. Obviously, the “treatment” for these two people, both of whom have autism, needs to be very different.
Which brings us back to the concept that we don’t “treat” autism; we help people with autism (and their families) cope with a largely non-autistic world. We actively look for strategies that work for each individual person who is autistic to make the world that little bit easier to deal with; we look for the advantages of ASD that each individual has (some people call this their “autistic superpowers”) and we determine what they need the most help with coping with and try strategies to make that easier (the equivalent of left-handed scissors, to continue our left-handed analogy).
Whole Family Health is owned by a family of 2 parents and 4 kids; 4 of our 6 members have an autism diagnosis. Some of our staff members also are, or have family members who are, autistic. So, we think we’re pretty experienced with “treating” ASD, but even then, our loving autists like to throw us regular curve balls! So, we’re always on the hunt for new strategies and techniques to try to make life easier for all of us. Please feel very welcome to ask if your neurodiverse family needs help and would like to try some of the strategies and techniques we have found helpful for our own families!