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Dr. Frank Del Rio on Autism Positivity

April is Autism Awareness Month. Autism is one of the most misunderstood diagnoses given by clinicians. It seems that when a person has this diagnosis, it almost always comes with a negative connotation. If you're the parent/staff of a child with autism (or an adult on the spectrum) you've probably heard a lifetime's worth of information about the challenges and deficits associated with the disorder. But for every downside to autism, there seems to be an upside too. People with autism have uniquely positive traits that are rare or even nonexistent among typical individuals. It's important to note that these positive traits are not unique to savants with special talents or skills; rather, they are present in almost every person with autism. In fact, having worked with this population for over 25 years, I would say you are blessed if you know or work with someone on the autism spectrum, due to these positive traits

If you're tired of hearing about the problems associated with autism, try pinning this list up on your fridge or sharing it with friends, family, and school staff. It's time to celebrate the positive!

 

Autistic People Rarely Lie 

We all claim to value the truth, but almost all of us tell little white lies. All, that is, except people on the autism spectrum. To them, truth is truth—there's no reason to prevaricate—and a good word from a person on the spectrum is the real deal. 

People on the Autism Spectrum Live in the Moment 

How often do typical people fail to notice what's in front of their eyes because they're distracted by social cues or random chitchat? People on the autism spectrum truly attend to the sensory input that surrounds them. Some see the beauty that others miss, though they pass by it every day. Many have achieved the ideal of mindfulness.

People With Autism Rarely Judge Others 

Who's fatter? Richer? Smarter? Prettier? Does that person have a degree from the right college or belong to the right church? For people on the autism spectrum, these distinctions hold much less importance than for typical folks. In fact, people on the spectrum often see through such surface appearances to discover the real person.

Perhaps most importantly, people with autism rarely judge other people with disabilities. Where a typical peer might steer clear of a classmate with Down syndrome or a physical disability, people with autism are more likely to be accepting of differences.

Autistic People Are Passionate 

Many people on the spectrum are truly passionate about the things, ideas, and people in their lives. They spend the time, energy, and imagination necessary to truly master their area of interest, and they stick with it even when it's difficult, frustrating, or "uncool." How many "typical" people can say the same?

People With Autism Are Not Tied to Social Expectations 

If you've ever bought a car, played a game, or joined a club to fit in, you know how hard it is to be true to yourself. But for people with autism, social expectations can be honestly unimportant. What matters is true liking, shared interests, kindness, and the desire to spend time together—not keeping up with the Joneses.

People With Autism Have Terrific Memories 

How often do typical people forget directions, or fail to take note of colors, names, and other details? People on the autism spectrum are often much more tuned in to details. In many cases, they have a much better memory than their typical peers for all kind of critical details. In fact, a surprisingly large number of people on the spectrum have photographic memories, perfect pitch, and/or an almost perfect memory for songs, poems, and stories.

Autistic People Are Less Materialistic 

Of course, this is not universally true—but in general, people with autism are far less concerned with prestige and status than their typical peers. As a result, they worry less about brand names, high-end restaurants, and other expensive but unimportant externals than most people do. They are also less inclined to see salary or title as desirable for their own sake.

Autistic People Play Fewer Head Games 

"Do I look fat in this outfit? Tell me the truth—I won't get mad!" 

"I know I TOLD you I didn't mind if you went out, but why did you believe me?"

Few autistic people play games like these—and they assume that you won't either. It's a refreshing and wonderful change from the Peyton Place emotional roller coaster that mars too many typical relationships! Of course, part of the reason for this lack of subterfuge is the reality that autistic people find head games baffling. Why would someone ask a question if they don't want an answer? 

Autistic People Have Fewer Hidden Agendas 

Most of the time, if a person on the autism spectrum tells you what he wants—he is telling you what he wants. No need to beat around the bush, second guess, and hope you're reading between the lines! This may be due, in part, to the fact that many autistic people are unaware of or baffled by others' choice to hide their real intentions.

-Dr. Frank Del Rio