Society is built on differences, from skin colour to ethnicity to intelligence. One difference that is perhaps less appreciated is the way our brains work and how each of use, see and experience the world around us.
A very good example of this difference can be seen in people who have Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and may experience the world in a different way. ASD is often described as a ‘hidden disability’ as the difficulties people may experience in the world are not obvious to those around them. Autism is a disability that society need to understand in order for people to be valued and included.
A teenage client confessed that he feels different from his peers - at break times at school he likes to have what he described as ‘thinking time’ and his friends are always asking him if he is ok, but he is fine, he just needs time to think; which makes him stand out from the others in the playground.
People with ASD are often described as having brains that are wired differently. The term ‘different’ can evoke various responses when we say someone sees the world in a different way, it does not make it any lesser and should not be viewed from a negative lens.
A feature of ASD is processing sensory input like sounds, smells and touch differently. Have you ever been on holiday to a remote place where there is no traffic noise, there are sounds of nature and tranquillity and then you return to the city and your senses are reeling; you feel overloaded by the lights, sounds, smells and pace of life. This level of heightened sensory sensitivities is what people with ASD face on a daily basis.
It is true that we all experience sensory stimuli in different ways and it can be helpful to try and recognise our own responses. In fact, we are all on a continuum in how we communicate, understand social rules and use routine in our lives.
A good example of how we all see things differently was illustrated by family we were working with when we explained in depth about their son’s diagnosis using the phrase ‘he sees the world’ differently. Whilst his father found this phrasing to be unhelpful as he felt that this may increase feelings of difference, his mother said he already feels different and stating it will help to show him that he is understood.
The neurodiversity movement is refreshing in the sense of celebrating and valuing difference. People are different and yet the same, no matter what religion, race, age, gender - we are all human. As with anything we all cope with things in our own way, tackling each day as it comes.
We are all unique and need to continue to embrace our differences and recognise our strengths.
Autism Unravelled - September 2018