We understand perhaps now more than ever, that humans are wired for connection. Whether we identify as introverted or extraverted we need each other. Feeling the protection of others, our family, our tribe, and our community holds important survival benefits. Those on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) have a primary struggle with social communication, both receiving and sending. No matter what other strengths someone on the autism spectrum may have, struggling to connect (in neurotypical ways) has significant and potentially traumatic consequences. An ever- present feeling of being the outsider, getting shunned, insulted and rejected is a terribly consequential wound. It’s the very definition of trauma in the making. In this NPR article, Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Helped Comic Hannah Gadsby ‘Be Kinder’ To Herself, the Australian comic describes how stand up comedy helps her through the struggle to connect.
“People on the spectrum … sort of feel like an alien being dropped in from outer space, and you can’t quite connect properly,” she says. “Being on stage and making a room full of people laugh, felt like a connection I hadn’t been able to establish in any other environment.”
“I was getting a lot of things wrong, and the most difficult was my interpersonal life, because on stage in interviews, the boundaries and the rules of engagement are very clear. But once you step out of these things and you’re talking to people, you’re building relationships with people, there’s so much more uncertainty, and I don’t read the room nearly as well. I’ve spent my whole life really trying to study the room — that is one of my one of my special subjects. So in many ways I appear very good at being social. But it’s an incredibly exhausting process for me. So when I was diagnosed, it just gave me permission to be kinder to myself…”
In my new and upcoming book “A Light Within My Dyslexia” I write in the afterword and directly to kids:
“Everyone has a learning profile. It means we all have some strengths. Some are obvious and some are hidden. Having a learning profile also means we have areas that don’t come easily for us, are hard. Put these two things together and call them strengths and weaknesses, or strengths and challenges. I like to think of them as rockets and rocks.
Rockets are the things that help you rise up. They’re parts of you that give you a feeling of strength. Rocks on the other hand, can get in the way.
If your rocks, your struggles, are big enough especially when you’re going uphill, we sometimes feel defeated. Our rocks can seem like quite the obstacle. But they can be useful in the long run.
Everyone has some rockets and some rocks.”
As I have learned over the years, those of us who are more neurotypical have plenty of lessons we can learn from those with ASD. Curiosity, respect and compassion to name a few.
At Evoke Therapy Programs we are operationalizing this compassion and respect with a unique integration of Universal Design for Learning with mental health therapy for teens and young adults.