6 Ways You May Be Misunderstanding Your Autistic Child

How does your loved one with autism really feel? If he or she is unable to communicate feelings in words, or communicates feelings you don't expect, you may be tempted to make assumptions. You may even be tempted to assign feelings based, not on the evidence, but on your own feelings, ideals, or worries.

While it's very human to project your own feelings onto another person, however, chances are your guesses will be less than accurate.

That's even more likely when the person you're watching is autistic.

Autism doesn't deprive a person of emotions, desires, hopes, or disappointments. But it does mean that preferences, needs, feelings, and even observations of other people may be very different from yours.  Here are some of the most common ways in which we "neurotypicals" tend to misinterpret or project our own feelings onto folks with autism.

  1. He/she must be so lonely. Most people crave human company. A lot. It's not uncommon for a neurotypical person to actually dread time spent alone. As a result, many neurotypical people make the assumption that an autistic person who spends most of his or her time alone must be unhappy. In fact, however, many people with autism actively enjoy alone time -- and find time spent in the company of groups of "friends" to be exhausting and overwhelming.
  2. He/she just wants to be accepted. While there are certainly some people on the autism spectrum who advocate for inclusion and acceptance, many either feel that they ARE accepted or have no particular concern about acceptance one way or the other. The opinions of others are, in many cases, of extreme unimportance to people on the spectrum, many of whom are unaware of and/or unconcerned by others' judgements (assuming that there is no bullying or injury involved).
  1. He/she isn't interested because he isn't speaking up or getting involved. Most people show their interest in a person or activity by actively getting involved. People with autism, however, have a tough time figuring out exactly how to show interest appropriately -- and may therefore appear to be disconnected when they are actually very interested indeed. It may help to actively ask the person with autism whether they are interested, or to offer opportunities to become more engaged.
  1. A person with autism will show or tell me if he wants me to engage with him. All too often, neurotypical parents, grandparents, and others will assume that a person with autism who doesn't actively reach out or ask for attention doesn't want attention. They "don't want to push," for fear that they'll cause upset or start a scene. In fact, however, people with autism (particularly children) often lack the skills required to initiate interaction. What may look like standoffishness may actually been an inability to jump in and ask for attention.
  2. He/she must feel hurt or upset when others exclude him. People with autism are more than capable of feeling strong emotions, and there are certainly people on the spectrum who are keenly aware and upset when they are left out of an activity or group. But many people on the spectrum are unaware of social activity that occurs non-verbally or outside of their area of special interest. As a result, while neurotypical parents or peers may feel hurt on their behalf, people with autism may not even be aware that there's something to feel hurt about!
  1. He/she is doing his or her best and will be upset if I push him/her to exceed his level of achievement. The desire to excel in a field in order to impress or outdo others is, in many cases, completely alien to people with autism. While many achieve a great deal for pleasure, few do so to "win." That means that many people on the spectrum fail to push themselves -- not because they're incompetent or unwilling, but because they see no particular reason to do so. Often, the encouragement and support of another person can be the impetus autistic people need to raise the bar and move beyond their own comfort zone.

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