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Is your learning style also your autistic Achilles heel? Your sensory downfall? (ASC / ASD)

Is your learning style also your autistic Achilles heel? Your sensory downfall? (ASC / ASD)

This author has been thinking lately about how we learn (from a sensory perspective), and how autists’ sensory challenges affect this.

female child in a ball pool - illustrating autism article on spectra.blogThe primary or dominant learning styles of all individuals are said to use the three main sensory receivers: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic – the latter is essentially learning by doing, and includes ‘tactile’ learning – eg. a physical type of learning.

Essentially, all individuals use memory and perception to learn – and these two elements are often different in autists. All of us use all of the three main learning styles to a degree, however we do tend to have a preference for one.

Very young children are generally taught (in an educational setting) using movement-based methods; older children’s teaching is often more visually presented; and for older students, including those moving into college education, auditory learning is more usual. Good teachers would presumably use a blend of teaching techniques, and recognise individuals’ dominant learning styles, and adapt the learning as required.

An autist’s dominant learning style

Helping identify an autist’s dominant learning style can help an autistic child access their education, and could reduce stress. As an example, a young autistic boy this author knows, aged six, struggles (as a kinesthetic learner) to remember a text he has to read at school, which is then directly followed by a comprehension question – all read by the boy on paper.

He would be greatly helped by teaching techniques that involve touching, building, moving, or drawing a subject, in order to learn about it. He may also find it beneficial to hold something (like a fidget pen or toy, which can be tapped or held), while learning, to disperse some energy and aid focus.

Three girls are shown to illustrate that echolalia can be an early sign of autism.One point that I have been pondering is whether our dominant learning style is also our Achilles heel, as an autistic. For example, I am an auditory learner – I say things out loud to learn them, can recall information by simply hearing it, and work comfortably with sound in the background.

It is as if my auditory system is amplified

However my dominant autistic sensory challenges are also auditory. On a sensitive day, it is sounds, chattering, people’s mouth or eating noises, background noise, ‘grating’ noises like metal on concrete etc, that challenge my system the most.

So, it is as if my auditory system is amplified – and this not only allows me to effectively learn through auditory means, but also brings my system down when my auditory processing is overloaded. I can only speak as an autist and not for anyone else of a neurotypical persuasion, but if other autists experience this ‘ying and yang’ issue too, identifying it could be most beneficial, in terms of helping an autistic child access learning .

The autism research institute gives some examples of how autistic children may learn as follows:

If an autistic child enjoys looking at books (e.g., picture books), watching television (with or without sound), and tends to look carefully at people and objects, then he/she may be a visual learner.

 If an autistic child talks excessively, enjoys people talking to him/her, and prefers listening to the radio or music, then he/she may be an auditory learner.

And if an autistic child is constantly taking things apart, opening and closing drawers, and pushing buttons, this may indicate that the child is a kinesthetic or ‘hands-on’ learner.

The organisation states ‘It is important that educators assess for learning style as soon as an autistic child enters the school system and that they adapt their teaching styles in rapport with the strengths of the student.’

Boy draws, to illustrate childhood autism articleOf course, not all learning takes place at school, and the same theories can be replicated at home.

It really does make sense to work to a child’s strengths rather than ‘squash’ them into a learning methodology that doesn’t ‘fit’ them!

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders / Conditions.

The information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We’d also love your feedback on our posts!

‘Will the family understand an autism diagnosis?’ (ASD / ASC)

‘Will the family understand an autism diagnosis?’ (ASD / ASC)

A mum we know whose child may be autistic was recently asked whether her parents, the child’s grandparents, would understand an autism diagnosis.

The mum wasn’t sure, and her companion remarked that she doubted the grandparents would understand.

Image illustrating article showing the grandparent of autistic child ASD ASC.The connotations were that in their day, no one (outside of psychiatry circles), had heard of autism. Children of different neurologies were unkindly labelled at school, and you just had to get on with the card you were dealt.

But this got us thinking; no matter what your level of understanding, awareness and education about autism, and no matter whether you are an active computer user and are au-fait with the tools available on the internet, surely not understanding autism is a choice?

Most people do not understand physiological or neurological conditions unless we are involved somehow in the field – in fact few of us understand in a true sense the vast majority of topics, unless we have studied them.

But when you need to learn about something, most of us have the capacity and the resources to do our best and find out more. Not understanding autism is a luxury parents of autistic children are not afforded. Gaining education and awareness about the condition that affects your loved ones is surely a priority?

Grandparent with an autistic child (stock shot)The importance of learning more about the condition applies to lots of people surrounding an autistic individual, and ideally family members and anyone involved in their education should endeavor to find out more. There are plenty of simple, bullet point resources outlining the very basics of autism (e.g. the main challenges the individuals face, and how to support them at home, and in the school or workplace environment) available; not just online, but also in libraries. The National Autistic Society is a good place to start – http://www.autism.org.uk.

And even if some of the library books may not be completely up-to-date or concise, the library staff are usually very happy to help with research, and accessing and printing information sourced online. It really feels that not understanding something is a bit of a cop-out. None of us are educated about anything, unless we go out and seek to improve our knowledge base!

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders / Conditions; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We’d also love your feedback on our posts!

Autism and anxiety – if A is for autism, then it is most definitely also for anxiety

Autism and anxiety – if A is for autism, then it is most definitely also for anxiety

Anxiety and other similar problems are rife in the 21st-century, but for many people the issues are episodic or caused by an obvious external factor.

(Anxiety UK reports that anxiety disorders are very common, with 1 in 6 adults regularly experiencing some form of ‘neurotic health problem’, and the most common neurotic disorders being anxiety and depressive disorders. More than 1 in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage in their life, reports the organisation. Source – www.anxietyuk.org.uk)

Anxiety can really be considered to be part of your autistic DNA…

A man is shown in shadow to illustrate an article on autismHowever if you are on the autistic spectrum, for many individuals, anxiety can really be considered to be part of your autistic DNA. There is very little in the way of hard and fast stats and figures to indicate anxiety levels among autists. (The National Autistic Society states that autistic children and young people can experience a high ‘base level’ of anxiety every day. ‘Autistica’ advises that anxiety is ‘common’ in autists.)

Spectrum News reported that the reason we see ‘classic things’ like social phobia and generalised anxiety [in autists] is because people on the autistic spectrum have unique, distinct ways of perceiving the world. They reported in 2017 that Psychologist Connor Kerns, assistant professor at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, USA, is working with others on new ways to measure both ordinary and unusual forms of anxiety in people with autism. There are links to hers and others’ studies on anxiety and autism HERE.

Is a degree of anxiety an inbuilt factor for someone who is autistic?

But through this author‘s communication with other autistic individuals, and from collating information, it seems that a substantial degree of anxiety is an inbuilt factor with autism.

Many autists would for example describe their anxiety (on a scale of 1-10) at being at five, just as a baseline. Just getting through the day with all of the run-of-the-mill, usual challenges can be very stressful for autists; it is as if our neutral state is to have a certain level of anxiety.

If you know about autism, then the reasons for anxiety are obvious

Tony Attwood’s disparagement humour. Good-natured fun, or bullying, exploitative and offensive?If you know about autism then the reasons for this anxiety are obvious. Probably a major factor is social masking – trying to fit in with the world, and say and do things that others consider appropriate – which can be exhausting and stressful.

If you are an undiagnosed autist, there is the constant feeling of being different and not fitting in, or failing at being your best self. Very stressful! If you are a child, this is compounded by all of the developmental issues, and social and educational expectations.

Just the neurological differences for autists, in terms of elements like executive function, memory, sensory issues, emotional calibration and communication, can bring about a sense of anxiety. And this is without all of the usual stresses concerning finances, places of education, workplaces, relationships and so on.

The pressures are anxiety-inducing to an autistic child

For a school-aged child, or more specifically a child who is educated at school, the pressures of fitting in and completing school work when you have issues like executive function difficulties and possibly other comorbid autistic conditions can be immensely stressful and anxiety-inducing.

It is no wonder that unexplained anxiety is often one of the first things that parents of undiagnosed autistic children notice. And it is no surprise that so many children hold it together emotionally at school, and let out their emotions at home, leading to unhelpful third party comments like: ‘Well, he / she doesn’t seem to be very anxious at school.’

Personally speaking, e.g. from the author’s own autistic experience, I can say that my anxiety never goes away, but it is manageable. However, this has only really come about with an autism diagnosis.

Talking therapies, mindfulness etc can help, but really the key is perhaps to know your own autistic spectrum. (See our blog on this subject below).

Aspie-superpower days – why autists may be on an ‘autistic spectrum within a spectrum’? We look at the different ‘autistic’ days…

Know your own autistic spectrum

Two men walking, to illustrate autism articleSo what do we mean by this? We mean, what triggers you; what overloads you in a sensory or social capacity; what external factors cause frustration; anger or upset; what sensory challenges affect your mood? What activities that you are engaged in (whether this is social activities, or within the educational action setting, workplace etc) make you stressed? Which family members, friends, associates or workplace colleagues are drains or fountains? (Drains being the people who drain you of your emotional energy, and fountains being the people who replenish it).

Would it be feasible to stay away from the drains to a degree, no matter who they are?

Or is there a way to educate the people around you further about what you need to do to reduce your anxiety day-to-day, in a self-care capacity?

Targeting anxiety as an autist

There are of course age-appropriate medications available for anxiety, in addition to therapies, dietary and exercise interventions and natural remedies as well, which individuals or their parents can discuss with the relevant healthcare provider.

But let’s look at it simply – if you had a severe allergic reaction to a type of animal or a plant, would you constantly be in close proximity to the animal or plant? Would you take a job in that field? it would be inadvisable, for your health. Yet many of us on the autistic spectrum continue to do things that cause an unpleasant reaction to our bodies.

Anxiety is a psychological response which can have physiological consequences. Noticing one’s triggers, or the triggers for a child, is a massive step on the road to managing anxiety.

Man on bed to illustrate that Autistic burnout is a physiological symptom of system overload

Autistic burnout – Burnout is a physiological symptom of system overload.

Anxiety that builds up is a factor for an autist heading to autistic shutdown, autistic meltdown or even autistic breakdown or burnout. Stories abound of young autistic adults reaching key developmental stages in their life, for example the start of high school or the start of university, and then having a complete emotional breakdown.

 Noticing one’s own anxiety levels can be immensely helpful

Noticing one’s own anxiety levels can be immensely helpful in preventing these incredibly detrimental occurrences. For example, noticing: changes in appetite or interest in food; an increase in harmful repetitive processes (including thoughts), and self stimulating behaviours that are detrimental; general apathy and lethargy; a lack of patience with people and reduced capacity to socialise to one’s usual capacity; and even a change in one’s heartbeat, if you use a health / activity tracker.

In children, are they ‘acting out’ a little more (behaviour that challenges is often a big ‘red flag’ sign); or having more meltdowns or episodes of sadness?

Are they finding it harder to regulate their emotions; withdrawing into themselves; exhibiting more self soothing stims; having difficulties in their place of education; becoming more controlling of their environment, or experiencing increased levels of perfectionism?

Mother and son - illustrating an article stating - If you are the parent of a child that you think may be on the autistic spectrum, you will almost definitely get asked the question: ‘But why would you want to give him or her a label?’Helping autistic children to identify their own responses could be very useful.

If a child is experiencing any significant number of the above signs, it could be time to reduce their sensory challenges and level of socialisation, reduce the demands put upon them, and do whatever is needed to help them recalibrate in a safe place, with plenty of downtime that meets their needs.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders / Conditions.

The information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences.

We’d also love your feedback on our posts!

Quirks and autistic attributes

Quirks and autistic attributes

Let’s talk about quirks, in connection with autism spectrum conditions. A quirk is a little difference, or something unusual – the Cambridge English Dictionary describes it as: ‘An unusual habit or part of someone’s personality, or something that is strange and unexpected: Or, an unusual habit, or type of behaviour.’

Woman with flower to illustrate an article about autismBeing quirky is not necessarily a bad thing; it can be a trait that makes someone fantastically individual. Lots of people are described as being quirky, and it can be a compliment; think of all the movie stars, artists and singers that you know – it is likely that the quirky ones stick in your mind the most.

An individual ‘look’

Many people on the autistic spectrum can be described as quirky. They may look quite individual – sensory challenges for example may dictate an away-from-the-norm hairstyle; meanwhile, the realisation that they don’t fit into a typical mould, combined with their creativity, could influence embellishments like tattoos, fashion, hair colours and piercings.

 Autistic special interests

Autists are known for their special interests, which can be unusual or less mainstream than their peers’ interests. Somewhere, there is an autist with a keen eye on the life cycle of the Lesser Spotted Serbian Wood Warbler, Albanian number plates of the 1980s, and vinyl b-sides of a now-defunct record company based in Hemel Hempstead.

Autists tend to thrive on repetition and patterns, so anything with a regular element to it appeals to the autistic brain; for example collecting certain items. The ‘collection’ and ‘special interest’ elements often intertwine, meaning autists develop real expertise in their area of interest. Read more about autistic special interests here.

‘We’re all a little bit autistic aren’t we…’

Woman with eyes closed _ to illustrate article on communication between NTs and autisticsThere is a lot of talk about the large amounts of people of all neurologies that have what could be described as autistic quirks or traits, and this leads to the well-worn phrase: ‘We’re all a little bit autistic aren’t we.’

Put simply, no, we are not all a little bit autistic – autism is a type of neurology that is diagnosed when person matches a designated set of criteria.

What is meant by the above term is that all of us have traits which autistic people often also have; for example quirks in the way they do things, repetitive habits, hyperfocus, attention to detail, shyness or introversion, and many more human traits.

But to have all of the aforementioned quirks or traits does NOT make you autistic.

It just means you have quirks in the way you do things, repetitive habits, hyperfocus, attention to detail, shyness or introversion.

It is no surprise that the phrase ‘We are all a little bit autistic aren’t we?’ gets banded about, as it is shared from person to person – in this author’s personal experience, I have heard therapists, clinicians and educators use it (when really they shouldn’t!), when it is actually a confusing phrase. Thus, it is a matter of education.

 In the general, NT population, ‘quirks’ aren’t autistic traits, surely?

White female smiling - used as stock shot for autism articleAt Professor Tony Attwood’s 2019 presentation, ‘What you need to know about Autism’, presented by the ACMAH, Professor Attwood told delegates:
Autistic [type] characterisations are like a jigsaw of 100 pieces [e.g. 100 autistic traits] – I have never met [someone non-autistic] with less than 20 pieces, and never met someone with autism with 100.”

By Professor Attwood’s calculations, at least twenty per cent of neurotypical (NT) individuals have some ‘autistic type’ characterisations or traits.

This author does feel however that calling traits (or quirks) such as those linked with difficulties with social communication and social interaction (shyness, introversion, lacking confidence socially);  restricted patterns of behaviours (eg. obsessive compulsive disorder-type behaviours, playing with one’s hair or tapping one’s feet repetitively), and those traits linked with sensory challenges (eg. disliking the feel of clothing labels, or avoiding a certain texture of food) AUTISTIC TRAITS adds to the confusion. In the general, NT population, they’re not autistic traits, surely? Doesn’t it make sense to say that only in an autist, are they autistic traits?

Autism is a neurological difference in processing

The premise that we ALL have a selection of quirks, but that autists simply have more is fine of course, but there does need to be some clarity, to get away from the ‘We’re all a little bit autistic aren’t we…’ phrase. ‘We’re all a little bit quirky…’ is an improvement! Autism is a neurological difference in processing, and simply having a collection of traits or quirks without this difference in processing does not make someone autistic.

It is important to celebrate one’s quirks

A picture of a couple holding hands to illustrate autism articleIt is important to celebrate quirks of course, and specifically to celebrate one’s autistic quirks. For a start, an autistic special interest invariably makes the individual an expert in that field – and many autistic individuals are highly creative, for example enjoying hobbies and careers in fields like photography, writing, graphic design, fashion and crafting. That ‘quirk’ could be the unique selling point that creates an income stream for the autist, or sets them out as a specialist, and an innovator. It could be the element that makes them the perfect friend.

Another reason to celebrate quirkiness is that being different is not necessarily a bad thing.

Following the crowd means you can get lost in the crowd – your voice may not be heard, you may go unnoticed, and you may coast along in the ‘middle of the road’. Having a difference, a USP, means you may take unusual and creative paths. No-one changed the world by being middle of the road! (Apart from, perhaps, the Scottish pop group, Middle of the Road, who bestowed upon us the song ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’. The definition of how this song changed the world is up for debate.)

Neurodiversity

Back to celebrating our autistic quirks. Being different means being diverse, and diversity has shaped many key educational, economic, cultural, and societal issues. Look at the steps that have been made recently in terms of diversity of language, race, religion and gender presentation. The neurodiversity movement (described by The National Symposium on Neurodiversity as being a concept where neurological differences are to be recognised and respected, as any other human variation, and may include those individuals with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, ADHD, Dyscalculia, Autism, Tourette Syndrome, and others), is making great strides, currently.

Neurodiversity as a social model advocates viewing autism (and other neurologies) as a variation of human wiring, rather than a disease, and neurodiversity activists advocate for celebrating autistic forms of communication and self-expression. (Source – The National Symposium on Neurodiversity.) Neurodiversity advocates also promote the use of support systems that allow autistic people to live as autistic people (no need to ‘cure’ them or quash their autistic quirks!), and advocate simply asking autistic individuals about their experiences, to promote understanding and awareness (there’s even a hashtag – #AskAnAutistic).

So to conclude, let’s, as autists, give ourselves a break, and try to accept and celebrate our quirks.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Disorders / Conditions; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. We’d also love your feedback on our posts!