More and more people are being diagnosed with autism: about one in 160 children worldwide has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the WHO. So why is this label so important? Well, because it gives those with autism, like me, a framework to help them lead a less stressful life. It’s important to understand that autism is a spectrum, which means not everyone possesses every trait in equal measure. That’s why I’m not just going to give you a list of autism traits here: I’m also going to focus on the benefits they can bring.
Atypical social communication & interaction in different situations
This one is well-known, but as with so many features of autism it varies tremendously from person to person. Those on the spectrum can face challenges with certain verbal and nonverbal skills, such as responding when spoken to or adapting their facial expressions or tempo of speech.
Two communication challenges are especially characteristic: pragmatics and prosody. Pragmatics is the appropriate use of language in social situations: knowing what to say and when to say it. This is something I really recognize in myself, since I tend to speak my mind and be really direct. That’s not always how things are done in the neurotypical world though. Then there’s prosody, where the rhythm and intonation of speech changes the meaning (Really. Really! Reaaallly…).
But please don’t think that we’re socially “disadvantaged”: au contraire. I’m very intuitive for example, something I’ve noticed in others with autism. Although that could also have something to do with my attention to detail…
Special attention to details
While neurotypical people can distinguish between main and side issues, people like me tend to interpret things in fragments. Long story short, people with autism can have problems with central coherence: I think of it as an orchestra without a conductor. Instead of a harmonious whole, you see a whole bunch of different musicians and instruments. This can make me quickly overwhelmed by all the stimuli coming in.
That’s also why I suffer from hyperacusis a lot, which makes me overly sensitive to a range of sounds. All the sensory information comes in without a filter. The result is a total cacophony, which makes life more draining than for a neurotypical person. My diagnosis explained why I wasn’t just overly sensitive, but that I processed things differently. For me the world isn’t a movie with lead actors and extras. It’s a series of flashing billboards all trying to grab my attention at the same time.
But it’s not all stress: that attention to details can be a big advantage too. Due to my meticulous way of seeing things, I rarely overlook small mistakes. Their special attention to detail and atypical way of processing information can also make people with autism very creative: they notice things that others don’t.
Strong attachment to objects or special interests
Strong special interests are another common trait of people with autism. This often takes the form of a strong passion or hyper-focus on particular hobbies or topics. Historically, these intense interests have often been discouraged due to a belief that they would distract from (school-)work or get in the way of socialization. But experts are coming to understand more and more that these interests can be an important strength and a way to relieve stress.
My special interests really help me wind down, especially after being exposed to certain stimuli. Puzzles, singing, playing piano, true crime…instead of worrying, why am I so sensitive, I just throw myself into my favorite activities! Stories of people with autism turning their fixation of choice into a career are a dime a dozen. I’m a prime example myself, having turned my fascination for language into a flourishing career as a copywriter. Today I’m writing blogs for Loop Earplugs because of this special interest!
Another prevalent trait among people with autism is thinking and learning visually. People with autism are often visual thinkers, relying heavily on visual intelligence and spatial judgment to navigate space, memorize and envision. Many are good at puzzles, organizing objects, and remembering routes. Autism professionals often use visual tools to help children and adults with autism learn and function better in daily life.
While visual thinking could be complicated by visual overstimulation, there are enough ways to have visual thinking work to your advantage. Personally I always make sure I have my special interests in my line of vision. That stimulates me to focus on them whenever I’m overstimulated.
Hypersensitivity to stimuli like sound: are autism and fear of loud noises related?
Differences in sensory processing and lack of central coherence can make hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) a real challenge for those with autism. This can take different forms, from avoiding eye contact to a huge fascination or aversion to certain stimuli. For me hyperacusis has been a problem all my life, and I have to admit sometimes it’s tempting to shut my ears off from the outside world. But that’s no way to live.
That’s why my advice is to take control over certain stimuli. When it comes to my autism and battling sound sensitivity, I have different options. I can use wax earplugs to dampen sounds coming in, or put on a pair of noise-canceling headphones or earphones to limit background noise. If you do this it’s helpful to agree to a visual signal with your housemates, so that they know when they can communicate with you. Then there’s Loop Earplugs, which I pop in when I need to focus on my work, but also to keep myself from getting overstimulated at the supermarket for example. Loop Experience Pro Earplugs work well for my hyperacusis because they don’t fully block off sound, but just turn it down. Life is much better when you control the volume!
I hope this blog has given you some insight into what some common traits are of people with autism, and how they can also be a source of strength. It’s all about understanding yourself and making the most of your superpowers!
If you’re an individual with any of the autistic and noise sensitive traits I’ve listed, then check out our range of earplugs, Quiet, Experience & Experience Pro. All available to help you turn down the world’s volume.
| About the author:
Magali De Reu is a 32-year old copywriter serving the tech and startup community in Belgium, Western Europe, and the US. Living with autism spectrum disorder, she is particularly passionate about examining and delving into the ways in which people communicate.