Living a Normal Life with Autism

Unravel strategies to embrace a normal life with autism, improving social skills and managing sensory sensitivities.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
April 25, 2024
Published On
April 25, 2024

Social Interaction Challenges

Living a normal life with autism often involves navigating various challenges, particularly in the realm of social interaction. Understanding these challenges is the first step towards developing effective strategies for improving social skills.

Difficulty in Social Interaction

For people on the autism spectrum, difficulties with social interaction are a common theme. These difficulties can manifest in various ways, including interpreting other people’s behavior, as well as understanding what to say or how to behave around others. Some individuals with autism may have limited motivation in interacting with those around them, while others may have a strong desire to interact but struggle with the nuances of social interaction.

These struggles aren't limited to just socializing. Many individuals on the autism spectrum may desire to interact with others, but may find it challenging to engage with friends and may be overwhelmed by new experiences. This highlights the need for support in learning social skills for different types of social situations.

Impact of Social Interaction Difficulties

The difficulties in social interaction that people on the autism spectrum experience can have significant impacts on their daily life. One of the most prominent impacts is on their ability to manage conflict and solve problems. They may also find it difficult to engage in social situations without feeling anxious or stressed.

Additionally, these challenges can make individuals on the autism spectrum more vulnerable to bullying. Unfortunately, people on the autism spectrum are more likely to experience bullying than any other type of disability. This can further exacerbate their social interaction difficulties and lead to increased anxiety and stress.

Understanding these challenges is crucial for developing effective strategies to help individuals on the autism spectrum improve their social skills and navigate social situations more confidently. The following sections will explore these strategies in more detail.

Strategies for Improving Social Skills

For individuals on the autism spectrum, social interactions can often present challenges, causing feelings of anxiety or stress. However, there are several strategies that can be employed to improve these social skills and allow for a more normal life with autism.

Learning Social Skills

Social interaction skills can be learned through various strategies such as playing games together, role playing, modeling, and direct social skills training [1]. These activities provide individuals with autism an opportunity to practice and develop their social skills in a safe and supportive environment.

Structured programs, like the PEERS program at UCLA, which focuses on social skills over a 16-week period, have shown promising results. Additionally, personalized teaching stories using visual aids like charts or booklets can provide a visual guide on what to expect in various situations and how to navigate them effectively, making everyday social situations more predictable and manageable [2].

Evidence-Based Practices

The use of evidence-based practices (EBPs) has been mandated by two federal laws, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04), for children with autism [3].

The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 EBPs for improving outcomes for students with autism. To select the most appropriate EBPs, educators and practitioners should follow a four-step process:

  1. Identifying the target behavior
  2. Collecting baseline data
  3. Setting goals
  4. Determining which EBPs can address the target behavior

High-quality implementation and consistency are important for the effectiveness of these practices [3].

In addition, high-leverage practices (HLPs) such as small-group instruction, functional behavior assessments, peer-assisted strategies, and organized and supportive learning environments can also be effective for students with autism [3].

Through these strategies and evidence-based practices, individuals with autism can improve their social skills, enhancing their ability to interact with others and leading a more typical life.

Importance of Consistency

In the journey of leading a normal life with autism, consistency plays a crucial role. This encompasses routine and repetition, which are fundamental aspects for the development of children with autism spectrum disorder, helping them function more independently and improve social and emotional health.

Routine and Repetition

Routines are extremely beneficial for children with autism as they are predictable and reliable, making them feel safe and secure. The repetitive nature of routines provides a sense of order and structure that can help reduce anxiety and make the world more understandable. This, in turn, can foster a learning environment, as children with autism learn best with daily routines in place.

Repetitive patterns of behavior, activities, and hobbies can help individuals with autism achieve fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentment. However, people with autism often find it difficult to learn and manage everyday tasks such as taking a shower, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and packing their school bag, due to the developmental differences associated with autism.

Creating Predictable Routines

Creating predictable daily routines can bring stability and comfort into the lives of children with autism. In this process, family endeavors and flexibility of lifestyle decisions play a role in structuring a daily routine for children with autism spectrum disorder. Activities like mealtimes and bedtimes are often used to create patterns beneficial for children with ASD [4].

Individuals on the autism spectrum often require reminders and extra support to incorporate tasks into their daily lives, as they may need to plan tasks to understand their necessity. Daily living skills for individuals with autism can be developed through a step-by-step teaching technique, which involves breaking down tasks into manageable steps, teaching each step separately, and providing support and guidance throughout the learning process [5].

To help individuals with autism develop these essential skills, it is essential to increase their awareness of specific skills, set achievable goals, break tasks down into smaller steps, and teach each step incrementally. Visual aids like drawings, pictures, or videos can be utilized for assistance. Occupational therapists can also provide invaluable assistance in learning how to undertake everyday tasks and incorporating these tasks into their daily routines.

In this way, consistency, routine, and repetition become essential elements in enhancing the daily life of individuals with autism, aiding them in navigating through life more independently and confidently.

Social Communication Differences

One of the key characteristics distinguishing individuals living a normal life with autism are the differences in social communication. From understanding others' perspectives to interpreting social cues, individuals with autism navigate through unique challenges in their social interactions.

Theory of Mind

Theory of mind involves understanding that others have different thoughts, desires, and needs. This concept is often delayed in individuals with autism, impacting their social interactions by making it difficult to predict and interpret others' behaviors.

A person with autism may have difficulty understanding that someone else may not share their knowledge, emotions, or experiences. This can make it challenging for them to predict or understand other people's actions. For instance, they might not realize that a person is upset based on their facial expressions or tone of voice, making it harder to respond appropriately.

Despite this challenge, many children and adults on the autism spectrum have the desire to interact with others. However, they may struggle with engaging friends and be overwhelmed by new experiences, indicating the need for help in learning social skills for different types of social situations.

Understanding Social Cues

Individuals with autism often have difficulty recognizing and understanding social cues, leading to challenges in adjusting their behavior to suit different social contexts. This indicates challenges in receptive communication.

For example, they may interpret language literally, struggling with understanding figures of speech and metaphors. This can lead to frequent misunderstandings in communication. They might also have difficulty understanding non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice.

Expressive communication differences in individuals with autism may manifest in various ways, such as significant delays in language development, idiosyncratic language use, discomfort in maintaining eye contact, and using non-verbal behaviors to communicate effectively. This can further compound the challenges they face in social interactions.

Understanding these social communication differences is key to helping individuals with autism navigate their social environments. By providing appropriate support, guidance, and understanding, we can empower them to overcome these challenges and lead a fulfilling life.

Enhancing Social Skills

Living a normal life with autism often involves learning and enhancing social skills. These skills can be taught through various strategies and structured social programs, each designed to meet individual needs and promote positive social interactions.

Teaching Social Skills

Social interaction skills can be learned through various strategies such as playing games together, role-playing, modeling, and direct social skills training. These teaching methods can be tailored to the individual's level of understanding and capability, ensuring that they are appropriately challenged and supported throughout the learning process.

Federal laws, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04), mandate that educators use evidence-based academic and behavioral practices for children with autism. These practices have been shown to be effective in enhancing the social skills of individuals with autism.

The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for improving outcomes for students with autism. High-leverage practices (HLPs) such as small-group instruction, functional behavior assessments, peer-assisted strategies, and organized and supportive learning environments can also be effective for students with autism [3].

Structured Social Programs

Structured social programs can also play a significant role in enhancing the social skills of individuals with autism. These programs provide a structured environment where individuals can learn and practice social skills in a supportive and understanding setting.

One such program is the PEERS program at UCLA, a 16-week program focusing on social skills, including dating tips. The program has shown promise in teaching social skills to individuals with autism, emphasizing the importance of structured programs in enhancing social interactions and relationships [2].

These structured social programs often involve a combination of individual and group activities, allowing individuals to learn from both direct instruction and peer interaction. By participating in these programs, individuals with autism can enhance their social skills, improve their ability to form and maintain relationships, and live a more normal life with autism.

By leveraging both teaching strategies and structured social programs, individuals with autism can enhance their social skills and improve their social interactions. This can greatly contribute to their ability to live a more normal life with autism, breaking down barriers and opening up new opportunities for personal growth and development.

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory issues are common in individuals with autism. These challenges are part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder and manifest differently in each person, leading to unique sensory sensitivities. Understanding these sensitivities is key to living a normal life with autism.

Sensory Overload

In individuals with autism, sensory overload occurs when intense sensory stimuli overwhelm their ability to cope. This overload can lead to anxiety, escape tendencies, or difficulty communicating and can be caused by a single event or build up over time due to managing sensory sensitivities daily.

Autistic individuals can face hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) and hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to various stimuli, such as bright lights, specific sounds, smells, textures, and tastes. This can result in sensory avoidance or sensory seeking behaviors [7].

Sensory Sensitivities Oversensitivity Undersensitivity
Light Avoiding bright lights Preferring bright colors
Sound Covering ears in response to loud noises Seeking out loud noises
Texture Uncomfortable clothing sensations Seeking out different textures
Taste Limitations in food preferences Enjoying strong-flavored foods
Smell Discomfort with certain smells Not noticing strong odors
Temperature Wearing warm clothes in warmer weather

Managing Sensory Challenges

Self-advocacy for sensory needs is crucial for individuals with autism to ensure their requirements are met. Understanding one's needs, making environmental changes, trying new strategies, or adjusting routines can help manage sensory challenges effectively. It may require trial and error to find the best accommodations.

Autistic children and teenagers can have sensory sensitivities like hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity. Sensory sensitivities can persist into adulthood, but individuals often learn to manage them as they grow older [8].

Sensory problems in autistic children can impact the entire family and their daily activities. Occupational therapists can assess and help manage sensory issues, while dietitians, speech pathologists, optometrists, and audiologists might also assist with specific sensitivities [8].

Autistic children may exhibit reduced awareness of pain sensations, which could lead them to not react to painful situations as expected. Parents should be aware of this and take appropriate action to ensure the child's well-being.

Understanding and managing sensory sensitivities is crucial in enabling individuals with autism to navigate their daily activities and live a normal life. With appropriate strategies and support, these challenges can be effectively managed.