Finding Balance:

Autism’s Weaknesses & Strengths

By Astrid Liddel

Autism, depression and anxiety can make life very difficult.  Often, I find it hard just to get out of bed and get dressed.  Not everything is hard for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), though.  In this post, I will be discussing some of the things that come (and don’t come) easily and why.

One thing that’s hard for autistic people is maintaining social relationships.  This is because many people with ASD find it hard to read nonverbal social cues, such as facial expressions.  Since people with ASD have difficulty interpreting these silent signals, reading the mood of the room or having conversations may be harder than for neurotypicals.  In addition, people with ASD struggle to properly communicate with their peers. They might repeat phrases they’ve heard or take things literally.  Not everyone who has ASD has these experiences, but for those who do, finding and keeping friends can seem an insurmountable task.

Another thing that makes life hard for people with ASD is sensory issues.  Some people with ASD are hypersensitive to certain stimuli, such as loud noises or uncomfortable food textures.  This means that, in order to cope in high-stimulus environments like parties, people with ASD need to find ways to block out what’s bothering them.  These coping mechanisms can be as simple as using earplugs or weighted blankets.  People with ASD also can be underwhelmed by stimuli and may seek out intense experiences, such as eating spicy food.  Underly-sensitive people with ASD can often have their needs satisfied with appropriate stimuli, such as strong-smelling things or objects to chew on, such as ice cubes.

A third thing that can be challenging for people with ASD is attending school.  School provides challenges in the form of stimuli and socialization.  Getting to class on time or keeping school supplies organized may seem easy to people with neurotypical development, but for people with ASD it is yet another struggle that makes school much harder.  Children with ASD are also often bullied by their peers simply because they are different.  It’s a shame that school—a place where children should feel safe and supported—can be a living hell for people with ASD.

People with ASD do have remarkable strengths, however.  Some things people with ASD are recognized for include attention to detail, honesty, efficiency, high educational qualifications, and visual thinking skills.  These qualities make them potentially excellent employees.  This also proves that many people with ASD can work in stressful social environments and still succeed.  They may need special accommodations, but they are able to work effectively as long as they have their needs met and feel prepared for the undertaking.

One aspect of autism that might be seen as either a weakness or a strength, is the tendency to become obsessed with special interests.  A special interest can be literally anything; all that matters is that it’s a topic the person with ASD will put a lot of focus and thought into.  This means that people with ASD can teach you everything about their special interests, making them able to become experts in any subject they love, whether it’s math, history, science, space travel, or a favorite film series.

Again, these qualities could be excellent in the workplace, and this ability lets those with ASD share their special interests by educating the people around them.  Examples of the many people whose special interests allowed them to thrive in their fields are Barbara McClintock, a scientist, and Bobby Fischer, a renowned chess player.

Autism is often portrayed as a struggle.  While autism does have its challenges, it has many strengths that people don’t often associate with it.  The true struggle is figuring out how to balance weaknesses with strengths.  A person with ASD must decide each day how they are going to deal with their problems, both mental and physical.  They’re not really different from typical folks in this regard—they just see the world in a unique way.  That’s something we should treasure, not overlook.

 

References

Autism Spectrum Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2018, from https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/areas-difficulty

Sensory differences. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2018, from https://www.autism.org.uk/sensory

Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum. (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2018, from http://www.healthtalk.org/peoples-experiences/autism/parents-children-autism-spectrum/difficulties-education-disliking-school

Autism Spectrum Australia. (1970, January 01). Retrieved July 30, 2018, from https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/strengths-and-talents-employers

History’s 30 Most Inspiring People on the Autism Spectrum. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2018, from https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com/historys-30-most-inspiring-people-on-the-autism-spectrum/

 


Astrid Liddel is a CBS staff member and blogger publishing under a pseudonym.

Disclaimer: This article is for general information only, and is not intended (nor should it be relied upon) as health care or other advice regarding your specific circumstances. Individual circumstances and outcomes vary, and the statements or recommendations in this article may not apply to you. Please contact your health care provider regarding any specific issue or problem.  The opinions expressed in this post are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of CBS.

©2018 by Center for Behavioral Sciences, Inc.  All rights reserved.