Department of Psychology

Department of

Psychology

Department of

Psychology

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Psychology Clinic Services

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way a person socializes, reads social cues, and understands and communicates with others.  It is broadly characterized as 1) persistent deficits with social communication and interaction, and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, activities, and sensory sensitivities. Autism is not one thing and how it presents in individuals varies widely across the spectrum. Symptoms may not be evident until environmental and social demands exceed the individual’s skills.

The Neurodiversity movement’s idea is that there are natural variations in how the human brain is wired. Autism is a neurotype which makes a person experience the world in a different way, which can make it harder for a person to navigate the world. The answer to this difficulty is to understand and create an environment for that person to flourish in, not to change who they are. With this, a person has the opportunity to use their strengths and be successful.

We use the term, “autistic individual” but acknowledge and respect that neurodiverse people differ in their preference for person-first language, (i.e., individual with autism) or identify-first language, (i.e., autistic individual).

There are many ways to learn more about Autism. A powerful way to learn is to listen to the lived experiences of autistic individuals as well as experts in neurodiversity.

Myths about ASD

Sometimes a very specific picture of autism comes to mind, which doesn’t capture the diversity of the individuals with this neurotype. Misconceptions about autistic individuals, or anyone, are harmful because we fail to see the person’s individuality beyond their ‘label’. This can negatively affect equal opportunities for work, education, relationships, and other areas.

  • Autistic people are not interested in or cannot make friends: Just like everyone else, autistic people want to form connections with others. And similar to all people, making connections can be easier when the other person has experienced the world in the same way or is willing to understand your experience. Autistic people are just as capable of forming close, intimate relationships with others but when these relationships are with neurotypical individuals, more support and mutual understanding might be needed.
     
  • Autistic people lack social skills: Autistic individual’s social skills differ from neurotypical individuals, which can make it challenging for them to navigate social situations. Autistic and neurotypical individuals struggle to interpret the social-communication cues of each other; however, the failure to understand and communicate effectively tends to be solely placed of autistic individuals. In response, some autistic people have developed exceptional “camouflaging” or “acting” skills by observing others; however, these actions can be exhausting and feel disingenuous.
     
  • Autistic people do not feel emotions: autistic people feel their emotions deeply. Where they might struggle is to understand, label, and express their emotions in a way that neurotypical people understand.
     
  • Autistic people do not feel empathy: not only do autistic people feel empathy, it can be more intense compared to neurotypical people. Knowing how to manage those feelings or how to act on them is what can be challenging. There are many ways to show empathy and how an autistic person expresses this may be misunderstood by people with a neurotypical brain. It is important to learn the ways that autistic people communicate their empathy and share how you want an autistic person to support you. 
     
  • Autistic people have an intellectual disability or are Sheldon Cooper level geniuses: Autism is not one thing and how it presents in individuals varies widely across the spectrum, including someone’s intelligence. Intelligence varies, just as it does for neurotypical individuals. An area that can be frequently be challenging for autistic individuals is executive functioning, which are the mental processes that enable a person to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.
     
  • Autistic people do not make eye contact: autistic individuals vary in their comfort for making eye contact. Some people avoid eye contact because it feels intense and makes it hard to follow a conversation. Some people’s eye contact can seem intense or be inconsistent. Other autistic people learn tricks because they know it is a social norm, but they do so with conscious effort. Often it depends on how familiar the other person is.
     
  • That “high functioning” means that things are not hard for the person. The label “high functioning” usually translates into high expectations, which isn’t fair to a person. Just because a person doesn’t appear to be struggling doesn’t mean they aren’t working incredibly hard and need support. Further, the term high-functioning can be taken as a person being "better" than someone who is low-functioning, which has harmful consequences. A lack of eye contact does not mean that the person is not listening or uninterested in what you have to say.
Resources for Females

What we are learning from research and women’s experiences is that ASD looks different in women and is more likely to be missed. Females are more likely to engage in something called camouflaging which refers to explicit efforts to ‘mask’ or ‘compensate’ for autistic characteristics by using conscious or unconscious techniques to minimize the presentation of social difficulties. Examples are learning and following social scripts, imitating facial expressions, tone, and gestures. This can make females seem more socially adept and less likely to be identified.

Websites:

Online Facebook communities for autistic women

  • Aspire – The Female Autism Network
  • Women with Autism/Autism Women and Girls  
  • Autistic Girls Network
  • Black Autism Support Society
  • Autastic BIPOC
  • NeuroDivergent Network
  • LGBTIQA+ Asperger's/Autism
  • Autistic & Trans 

Videos about the Strengths of Autism

Podcasts:

Books:

Can be purchased through their website, amazon, or at bookstores.

  • Neurotribes
  • Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism
  • Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome
  • Sisterhood of the Spectrum: An Asperger Chick’s Guide to Life
  • Pretending to be Normal
  • Autism in Heels
  • Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism
  • Safety Skills for Asperger Women
  • 22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know
  • Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Autism
  • Trans and Autistic: Stories from Life at the Intersection
  • Spectrums: Autistic Transgender People in their own words:
  • The Asperkid’s Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guideline for tweens and teens with Asperger Syndrome
  • Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence
  • Social Survival Guides for Teens on the Spectrum

Autism Influencers on Instagram

  • Paige Layle @paigelayle
  • Anna Zoe @hopingforhappy
  • PJ Anu @pj_au_
  • 21 and Sensory @21andsensory
  • Emma @undercoverautie
  • Drewy Curious @drewynovaclara
  • Taylor Linloff @aspirationalautistic
Resources for Males

Websites:

Online Facebook communities for autistic people

  • Asperger’s from the Inside
  • Black Autism Support Society
  • Autastic BIPOC
  • NeuroDivergent Network
  • LGBTIQA+ Asperger's/Autism
  • Autistic & Trans 

Podcasts:

Books:

  • Neurotribes
  • The Journal of Best Practices: A memoir of marriage, asperger syndrome, and one man’s quest to be a better husband
  • Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8
  • Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism
  • In a different Key: The Story of Autism
  • Asperger’s and Adulthood: A guide to working, loving, and living with Asperger’s
  • Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Autism
  • Trans and Autistic: Stories from Life at the Intersection
  • Spectrums: Autistic Transgender People in their own words

Videos about the Strengths of Autism:

Autism Influencers on Instagram:

  • Daniel M. Jones @theaspieworld
  • John Elder Robison @johnelderrobison
  • Chris Bonnello @autisticnotweird
  • Paige Layle @paigelayle
  • Anna Zoe @hopingforhappy
  • PJ Anu @pj_au_
  • 21 and Sensory @21andsensory
  • Drewy Curious @drewynovaclara
  • Taylor Linloff @aspirationalautistic
Resources for Parents

There are many ways to learn more about Autism. A powerful way to learn is to listen to the lived experiences of individuals with autism as well as experts in neurodiversity.

Website:

Online Facebook communities:

  • Autism Beacon
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: Through My Eyes
  • Girls and Autism: Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum
  • Parenting with Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Parenting Autistic Children with Love & Acceptance

Videos:

Podcasts:

Behavioural Difficulties:

Many autistic children struggle can struggle to meet the expectations set for them at-home and school. Their behaviour can appear oppositional, manipulative, or an overreaction; however, they are trying their best with the skills they have. We recommend the Collaborative and Proactive Solution approach created by Dr. Ross Greene. This approach is outlined in his books, Raising Human Beings, Lost At School, and The Explosive Child and on the Lives in the Balance website.

Books:

  • The Superhero Brain
  • Can I tell you about Autism?
  • Can I tell you about Asperger Syndrome?
  • The Girl Who Thought in Pictures
  • The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Uniquely Human: A different way of seeing autism
  • Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
  • The Reason I Jump
  • The Autistic Brain: Helping Different Kinds of Mind Succeed
  • The Autism Mom's Survival Guide (for Dads, too!): Creating a Balanced and Happy Life While Raising a Child with Autism
References
  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • John, R. P., Knott, F. J., & Harvey, K. N. (2018). Myths about autism: An exploratory study using focus groups. Autism, 22(7), 845-854.
  • Quincy. (2020, February 17). The Double Empathy Problem – A Paradigm Shift in Thinking About Autism. Speaking of Autism....
  • Baldwin, S., & Costley, D. (2016). The experiences and needs of female adults with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 20(4), 483-495.
  • Hull, L., Petrides, K. V., & Mandy, W. (2020). The female autism phenotype and camouflaging: A narrative review. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-12.