Empathy in Action – Understanding and Supporting Autism

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In a world where empathy becomes the guiding force, “Empathy in Action: Understanding and Supporting Autism” invites you on a journey into the intricate tapestry of autism. Unravel the layers of diversity, challenges, and triumphs that shape the lives of individuals on the spectrum. Join us as we explore the power of understanding and the crucial role empathy plays in fostering an inclusive society.

I’ll start by taking us back a few years in my life to a time when society’s understanding of autism was even more limited than it is today. Prejudices and misunderstandings were as common as they are now, but knowledge even scarcer.

The “Star hut” was the educators best tool…

One of the most memorable events that truly highlights the need for knowledge and support for individuals with autism was my son’s time in preschool. The preschool educators had an idea that children with autism needed a “safe place” where they could retreat when needed. So, they created a small “cabin” in the cloakroom, where the child could sit at any time. I still remember their statements like, “The cabin works great; today he’s been there almost the entire day.”

It was a painful experience to see my child reduced to needing a separate place to function. Instead of trying to understand why my child struggled to adapt to the rest of the group, they had created a place to “store” him. It wasn’t pedagogy; it was a lack of understanding and support.

This was a clear example of how a lack of knowledge about autism affected my child’s daily life. There was an obvious misunderstanding of his needs and a tendency to see him as a “problem” that needed isolation. My wife and I had to fight to explain that this wasn’t how autism worked and that my child needed support and accommodations to thrive and learn.

My experience is that knowledge about autism was low back then, but I believe it has increased since. I’ve seen more written in the media about autism, and as long as that information is accurate, I think understanding and knowledge will continue to grow. What is needed to get there?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurological diagnosis that affects how an individual perceives and interacts with the world. It’s essential to understand that autism is a spectrum diagnosis, meaning there is a wide variation in how it affects different individuals. Some people with autism may have high-functioning autism, while others may have more extensive support needs.

Individuals with autism may face various challenges in their daily lives. This can include difficulties with communication, social interactions, and sensory sensitivity. These challenges can vary from person to person and can make everyday life more complex.

To meet the needs of individuals with autism, it is crucial that they receive the right support. This support can vary depending on the individual’s needs and may include both professional and personal support.

Individuals with autism can benefit from various professional services, including therapy and special education. These services are designed to help the individual develop skills and manage their challenges.

Family, friends, and close individuals play a vital role in supporting individuals with autism. Personal support can come in the form of understanding, patience, and adapting the environment to reduce overstimulation.

An important aspect of meeting the needs of a person with autism is collaboration and understanding from the environment. It’s not always easy to explain how we feel or what bothers us, but we can use our interests and passions as a key to communicate. By sharing our thoughts and experiences, we can increase understanding among our loved ones and society at large.

Assistive devices are tools or technology that can help individuals with autism better manage their daily lives. This can include communication aids, sensory tools, and structured routines.

Many children with autism attend school, and often, adjustments are needed to create a conducive learning environment. This may involve smaller class sizes, extra support, or adapted teaching. I’ll list some other tools below.

  • Communication aids: This can include Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) or Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices. These help individuals with autism express their thoughts and feelings when having difficulty using verbal language.
  • Sensory tools: For individuals with sensory sensitivity, things like earmuffs to reduce noise levels, sunglasses to dim bright light, or weighted vests for comfort can be helpful.
  • Structured routines and visual schedules: Using visual schedules and routines, such as daily timelines or agendas, can help individuals with autism understand and prepare for daily activities and transitions.
  • Accessible toys and tools: Special toys and tools can help children with autism develop their skills while having fun. This can range from sensory toys to puzzle games that promote problem-solving.
  • Computer programs and apps: There are many computer programs and mobile apps designed to support individuals with autism. These can include communication apps, social skills trainers, and educational games.
  • Adapted clothing: Clothes that are soft, seamless, and without labels can be more comfortable for individuals with sensory sensitivity. This can reduce discomfort and irritation.
  • Social stories: These are customized stories that help individuals with autism understand social situations and expectations. They can be useful in preparing for new situations or events.
  • Noise-reducing hearing aids: For individuals with sound sensitivity, noise-reducing hearing aids like headphones with noise reduction can help reduce overstimulation in noisy environments.

Understanding and meeting the needs of individuals with autism is crucial to helping them lead meaningful and independent lives. Through professional and personal support, tools, and adaptations, we can create a more inclusive society where individuals with autism can thrive.


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