99 Questions About Autism
Every now and then I take a look through the traffic report for this website, marveling at all the ways people end up here. The most interesting part is the Google search terms, which is often both fascinating and hilarious. And sometimes creepy. Seriously, you don’t wanna know.
A lot of these searches are questions, and I often wonder if the people asking them found what they were looking for. So I thought I’d pick some of them to answer. It’s also just interesting to see the kinds of things that people want to know about autism.
So here they are, in no particular order but roughly grouped by topic.
1. What is a literal thinker?
Words have two layers of meaning – what they actually mean (literal) and what we want them to mean (figurative). Literal thinkers tend to focus on the true meaning of words and have a hard time seeing this second, figurative layer of meaning.
2. Am I a literal thinker?
Do you have trouble understanding metaphors, sarcasm or euphemisms? Do you often misunderstand what others are trying to say? Do you find figurative speech stressful or confusing? Do you wish people would say what they mean? Then you might be a literal thinker.
3. Is literal thinking bad?
No, in fact there are many situations in which it’s extremely useful. But only seeing the literal interpretation of words and ideas can be limiting when it comes to communication, and can lead to misunderstandings, frustration and hurt feelings.
4. What is a meltdown?
5. Why do people have meltdowns?
6. What happens when a person has a meltdown?
Meltdowns happen in situations where it’s hard to cope and there’s no way to escape or relieve the tension, so the body becomes overwhelmed by cognitive, sensory or emotional demands that exceed its capacity to process them. This can trigger a panic-like reaction in which the brain starts to shut down – language and executive functions (memory, decision making, problem solving) become compromised, making it difficult to find a way out of the situation. Sensory overload, confusion, frustration and pain are all things that can trigger this kind of physiological reaction, and if the balance between demands and coping isn’t restored then the meltdown progresses toward an external outburst or internal shutdown.
7. Can adults have meltdowns?
8. Does everyone have meltdowns?
No. Although everyone has the potential to have one, some people are more likely to experience them than others. Children and people with sensory processing or autism spectrum disorders are more often in situations which are stressful and overwhelming without a readily accessible escape route, so meltdowns can be more common for them.
9. Why does (he) only have meltdowns in safe places?
Many things about being outside the home can be overwhelming for autistic kids, and there can be few places that feel safe. Sometimes on the outside it looks like these kids are doing a great job of keeping it together, but on the inside the stress is bubbling over. The effort required to keep a lid on their tension is exhausting, and it’s often not until they get home to that safe place that the lid comes off and they reach their breaking point.
10. Can you be autistic and not have meltdowns?
11. Can someone who is not autistic have a meltdown?
12. Is having a meltdown good for you?
13. What is a meltdown like?
They’re different for everybody, but I wrote about how it feels for me.
14. What should I do if I’m having a meltdown?
Reduce the amount of input that your body has to process – go somewhere quiet, put on some headphones, turn down the lights, stop talking, try to limit the number of things you’re doing at once.
15. How can I help when my friend’s kids are having a meltdown?
This is a really fantastic question, and I wish people would ask that more often. An even better question is “How can I help someone who is having a meltdown?” because adults can have them too.
People having a meltdown need calm, reassurance (because it can be really scary), less input and to be kept safe, so anything that you can do to make those things happen will be a big help. It’s not helpful when people are staring, judging their coping skills, crowding around or asking a whole bunch of questions… so sometimes ignoring it can also be a helpful way to reduce the stress for that family, but a supportive smile or gentle offer of assistance would also be appreciated by most.
But you know the best thing you can do? Ask your friend. Nobody ever asks this question, but every parent that I know would love to hear it (just don’t ask during a meltdown).
16. What does it mean when someone won’t make eye contact?
17. What does no eye contact mean?
Eye contact means much more than just looking someone in the eye, it’s using that mutual gaze to give and receive information. It’s a complex action that involves:
- knowing when and how to initiate contact
- How long to maintain it
- When and how to disengage
- Understanding the social rules that govern all of these
- Using that knowledge to control social interactions
In other words, an overly intense and unrelenting gaze is just as significant as no eye contact at all.
18. Why do people avoid eye contact?
19. What makes eye contact difficult?
There can be a lot of reasons why eye contact is uncomfortable for some people:
- The amount of sensory input and information is overwhelming
- The input is a distraction from concentrating and processing language
- It’s a complex task involving shifts in attention and social rules
- The rules about how and when to make appropriate eye contact are complicated and create anxiety for some people
20. How does eye contact control interaction?
Our faces are designed for reciprocal communication – for both giving and receiving information so that we can share in a mutually understood message with others. Eye contact helps us to do that in a number of different ways, like monitoring the interest and reaction of the other person when we speak and letting them know that we’re paying attention when it’s our turn to listen.
21. Can you be autistic and still maintain eye contact?
22. Can kids with autism make eye contact?
23. Do glasses help with eye contact?
Yes, glasses can make eye contact more bearable for some people.
24. What’s an IEP goal for eye contact?
Be very careful with this. Aside from the inappropriateness of expecting someone to communicate in a way that makes them uncomfortable and anxious, eye contact is not a single behaviour and should never be a goal in itself. It’s a deceptively complex skill which needs to be broken down into sub-tasks before it could be considered as a useful IEP goal.
Speech and language
25. What is pronoun reversal?
It’s a common stage in early language development, when someone uses the wrong pronoun for the situation – usually swapping first and second person pronouns (like requesting a drink by saying ‘You want a drink’ instead of ‘I want a drink’).
26. Why do autistic kids use the wrong pronouns?
Mixing up pronouns is common amongst autistic kids, and there are a lot of theories about why that might be, including that it’s a natural developmental stage, perseveration, literal thinking, and echolalia.
27. What is a monotone voice?
Varying the pitch, volume, speed and rhythm of your voice as you speak can really help to get your message across – like making the voice go up when asking a question, using inflections for sarcasm or stressing words to add emphasis. Speaking without these changes in pitch or intonation is considered to be a single tone, or monotone.
28. Why is being monotone a problem?
People who struggle with prosody (changing the pitch, volume, speed and rhythm of speech) are often mistaken for being disinterested, unfeeling or lacking a sense of humour. They might ask questions in a flat tone or find that others misinterpret the emotion in their spoken message.
29. Why are some people monotone?
30. Why do I talk in a monotone?
There are a lot of theories about this, such as not being able to hear differences in the pitch or volume of speech, not being able to produce these differences and not understanding when or why you’d need to vary them. For some people it just makes them feel more comfortable to maintain a neutral level of emotion in their voice.
31. How do I know if I have a monotone voice?
Do you find that people don’t seem to realize when you’re joking or asking a question? Do they often incorrectly assume that you’re tired, bored, unenthused, annoyed or being sarcastic? If so then it might be that your voice is ‘flatter’ than they’re expecting, and they’re equating that lack of variation to mean something different from the message you intended.
32. Can you change your monotone voice?
Yes, absolutely, if it’s causing problems for you. A speech therapist or voice coach can help you learn how to breathe, project and add variations to your voice. If you have a talent for mimicry you could try to copy the way others speak or the actors you see on TV. Singing lessons or learning a lyrical language such as French can also give you practice at changing the inflection in your voice.
Autism diagnosis and terminology
33. How is autism diagnosed?
It depends where you live. In most countries autism is diagnosed by a team of specialists (such as psychologists, paediatricians, general practitioners and speech therapists) using a checklist of behavioural criteria.
34. What is the DSM?
35. What is ICD?
These are two sets of criteria for classifying and diagnosing a range of developmental and mental health disorders, like depression and attention deficit disorder. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) is mostly used in Australia and the United States, while the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) is more often used in Europe.
36. What are the changes in DSM V?
The most recent edition of the DSM contained significant changes to the way autism spectrum disorders are defined and diagnosed. You can read about those changes here, and there’s also a handy diagram for those who like their information visually.
37. Does Aspergers still exist anymore?
Yes. Although the latest edition of the DSM removed Asperger’s Syndrome as a separate category of diagnosis amongst autism spectrum disorders, many people still use the term to identify themselves or others.
38. Does assbergers exist?
39. What’s a nice way to say autistic?
40. What does dysfunctional mean?
An impaired ability to function, that usually creates a problem for someone. Did you know that it doesn’t mean the same as abnormal, nonfunctional or atypical?
41. Is autistic politically incorrect?
42. What is a word that describes people with autism?
43. Why don’t kids with autism eat many foods?
44. How do I get my autistic son to eat more foods?
Many autistic people are selective or restrictive eaters, meaning that they choose to eat only a small selection of different foods. There may be different reasons for this – sensory issues, finding comfort in routines, rigid thinking, resistance to change or communication difficulties. Understanding these reasons will be helpful in finding the right solutions to broadening the range of foods that are comfortable and appealing to them.
45. Are transitions stressful for autism kids?
46. Why are transitions so bad for autistic people?
47. How do I help kids transition?
Transitions are a type of change that can be stressful for autistic people in particular because they involve shifts in attention, environmental cues, sensory changes and disruptions to routines or special interests.
48. Do autistic kids play?
Yes. It’s one of the myths about autism that autistic kids don’t play, don’t like toys and don’t have imagination. These myths originated from misunderstandings about how play skills develop, and assumptions about the things kids with autism like to play with and what should be considered a ‘toy’.
49. How do I help kids with autism play?
50. How do I get autistic kids to play with different toys?
Just like all kids, they need support and encouragement to progress and get better at playing so they can develop more complex skills. And as is the case with other types of learning, this help might need to be provided in a comprehensive and structured way.
51. Why can’t autistic kids pretend?
It’s not true to say that they can’t, only that some may find it difficult or simply not all that much fun to do. Symbolic play – pretending, imagination – is a complex skill that develops later for all kids, and one that goes hand in hand with language development (both require the ability to use one thing to represent something else). These skills might be delayed or develop in a different way for autistic kids, but it doesn’t mean that they never will.
Want to read more? Check out How To Help Autistic Kids With Play.
Friendships and social interaction
52. Can kids with autism have friends?
53. Do autistic kids have lots of friends?
54. Do autistic kids ever become social?
Yes autistic kids can and do have friends, and there are absolutely some that have a lot of them (and that goes for autistic adults too, by the way). It’s another one of those myths about autism that all autistic people aren’t interested in or can’t develop friendships.
It is true to say though that they can often be difficult, confusing or stressful waters to navigate – for some people and at some stages of life this might create many challenges, and they might not yet have found the resources or the right people to tackle those challenges with.
Fidgets and stimming
55. What is a fidget toy?
56. Why do you use fidgets toys?
Kids who have trouble regulating sensory input can easily become distracted, seeking out sensation to either stimulate or calm their nervous system. The classroom is one place where a lot of kids need to get this type of input, and fidgeting is a good way to do that – wriggling, biting their nails, doodling, moving around.
This type of fidgeting is often disruptive to both them and their classmates, so a fidget toy is an object that they can use to get this input in a less distracting way. These objects can also help improve concentration and attention to tasks by allowing the brain to filter out the extra sensory information.
57. What’s a good fidget toy?
A good fidget toy for school is one that is both effective at helping the student to concentrate and can easily fit into a classroom environment. It also needs to be a satisfying fidget replacement, and that will depend on the student’s individual abilities, challenges and sensory needs.
58. How do I make a fidget toy?
There are places where you can buy specialized therapy toys and equipment, but these can be expensive and there’s really no need to spend a lot of money (especially since you don’t really know what’s going to work for a particular person until you try them out). If you’re looking for cheap and easy ideas for things you already have lying around, download this free booklet with 45 ideas for classroom-friendly fidget toys.
59. Do fidget spinners work?
60. Can fidget spinners help me concentrate?
The kinds of movements we do when we fidget actually trigger the brain to release neurotransmitters that help us to concentrate. Suppressing the urge to move not only prevents the release of these chemicals, it also takes brain power away from concentrating on other tasks. So yes, objects like fidget spinners can help people to concentrate. They’re not right for every person or situation though, you can read more about that in How Do Fidget Toys Help Concentration.
61. What is stimming?
62. Is stimming the same as fidgeting?
No, although they are very similar. While they both involve repetitive actions and provide sensory input, the difference lies in the intensity and extent of those repetitions, and the cause and motivation behind them. You can read more about stimming in 7 Questions About Stimming.
63. How can I help parents with autistic children?
64. How do I support autism parents?
Parenting is a demanding job for everybody, but autism can come with extra challenges and families often don’t feel well supported to cope with them. If you’re looking for ideas about ways that you can offer some of that support, here’s a really big list.
65. How do I ask someone if they need help with their autistic kids?
“Hey, would you like some help?”
66. What do I say to parents of children with autism?
It shouldn’t be hard to know how to be supportive of people with disabilities and their families, but for most people their first encounter with disability is based on the often negative or discouraging stereotypes that are common in the media. This is especially true of autism, and so for people who don’t have first-hand experience it might feel like a taboo subject or something for which you need to offer sympathy.
67. How do you ask your friend if their child is autistic?
Well I guess the answer is… why do you need to know? Maybe you’ve noticed some behaviours that are unusual, or you’ve overheard something in the classroom, or even recognized the signs and are wondering if they’ve seen them too… but that doesn’t mean you’re owed an answer.
For me personally, I wouldn’t have an issue with a friend just asking the question. It’s not in any way an offensive or upsetting thing to ask, my kids are aware that they’re autistic and it’s something that we talk about openly in our family all the time. (Note that’s if a friend was to ask, not a stranger).
But not everyone feels the same way about that. So I would take your friend’s cue on this one – if they haven’t mentioned it to you, there’s a reason for that. If they need or want to talk to you about it, they will.
68. Can single parents get respite?
69. How do you get a break when you can’t afford a babysitter?
It can be really tricky to get a break when you’re a single parent or living paycheck to paycheck, but you don’t have to put your sanity and health on the shelf while you wait for that elusive break away from the kids. Respite can still be a realistic goal for you… it just might require some ‘out of the box’ thinking to find the solutions.
70. Why doesn’t my family understand autism at all?
71. Why don’t my family help with autism?
It can be really tough when the people closest to us find autism hard to talk about, especially if they actively discourage any mention of it, discredit parenting skills or even cut off contact altogether. There might be lots of reasons why your family is having trouble understanding autism and being a source of support instead of hurt – they might be overwhelmed, unaware, skeptical, in denial, worried, scared, ignorant or something else altogether. There are some tips about how to figure it out and what to do in the article linked above.
Autism at school
72. How do I make the start of school easier for autistic kids?
73. What do teachers need to know about autism?
74. What is an autistic friendly classroom?
Heading back to school after the long summer break can be a stressful transition for all kids, especially those with autism. You can find a really big list of back to school tips here.
An autistic friendly classroom is one in which the sensory and educational needs of kids with autism are taken into consideration. If you’re a teacher, you might like to check out this downloadable Autism Preparation Kit which gives tips on understanding autism and making the classroom a comfortable space for your new students.
75. Can autistic children work in groups?
Yes but it’s not always easy for them – in fact it can be emotionally, physically and mentally draining for some, downright scary for others. And the effects of this stress and exhaustion can last much longer than one lesson, it can impact learning for the rest of the day or even all week. For some kids who find group work daunting, even the mere possibility that they’ll have to do it at some point can increase their anxiety about being at school.
You can learn more about why this is in this post about how to make group work easier for autistic kids.
76. How should educators talk to parents of autistic children?
I’ll be honest… I don’t understand this question. I’ve been looking at it for a long time, trying to figure out what the person asking it was looking for. Were they wondering what language to use? How to broach difficult topics or handle disputes? How to set up a communication system or negotiate IEP goals? Because I would expect educators to talk to parents of autistic kids the same way they talk to every other parent. Maybe some of my readers who are teachers could help me out here.
77. Do autistic kids enjoy homework?
Does anybody? Well yes, of course there are some kids who do actually enjoy homework but many of them don’t… and this may be particularly true for autistic kids. Most days at school are incredibly hard work for them, and when they finally get home where things make sense and feel safe they need rest and recovery. Nobody does their best academic work when they’re mentally and physically exhausted, and that time is almost certainly better spent winding down and getting ready to do it all again tomorrow.
78. Should I homeschool?
If you’re having trouble getting your kids what they need at school (and even if you’re not), here are some questions to ask that might help you figure out whether homeschool is the right option for you.
79. How do I make a weighted blanket?
80. Why do autistic people like washing machines?
Because they make their clothes clean. Also, some people enjoy watching things that spin and others enjoy things with buttons and knobs on them.
81. Are autistic babies huge?
There have been some recent studies that suggest a correlation between autism and both high and low birth weight, but these aren’t conclusive and don’t offer any explanations for why this might be so.
82. Are autistic children afraid of threats?
Yes of course, when they perceive them to be so.
83. What is face blindness?
84. Can face blind people see faces?
Yes, people with face blindness do see faces but they may have trouble putting that visual information together in order to recognize and remember the face. Face blindness is called prosopagnosia, or literally ‘not knowing the face’. Here’s a really interesting video of neurologist Oliver Sacks talking about his own face blindness, and there are some ideas for helping in my article Tips For Face Blindness.
85. Do autistic children love spinning rides at amusement parks?
Just like all kids, there will be some that do and others who find that sensation unpleasant. Spinning stimulates the vestibular senses, which tell the body about balance and where it is in space (e.g. upside down). Many kids feel dizzy when they spin – some need a lot of spinning to register a dizzy sensation, others might feel dizzy with just a single spin.
Some kids get little sensation from spinning, and others might get input from spinning in one direction and not the other. Swinging back and forth is a very different type of sensory input to spinning around, and sitting up or lying down also impact how much input you get from spinning.
So even kids who voluntarily like to spin themselves around might find a spinning ride unpleasant, and those who don’t like spinning or swinging might still really enjoy a spinning ride.
86. Why do autistic kids hate sports?
Not all of them do! There are plenty of autistic kids who regularly play and enjoy both team and individual sports. But for a lot of kids with autism or sensory processing disorders, sports can be noisy, chaotic and confusing activities, and disruptions to coordination and motor planning can make them difficult to enjoy (especially when there’s pressure from a gym teacher or team mates to get the ball where it’s supposed to go as quickly as possible). But with the right supports, autistic kids can and do really enjoy many sports.
87. How do you manage a child with autism at sports?
Sporting events can be very overwhelming events for these kids, but there are lots of ways that you can help to make the day more comfortable for them.
88. What are snaggkebix?
I don’t know but they sound delicious.
89. Why is summer so hard for my child with autism?
If you’re talking about the summer break from school, it can be hard because the transition from a regular daily school routine to the less rigid vacation days is often stressful for kids who like to know what’s going to happen. It can really help to maintain some kind of routine during the break, with a visual schedule of activities and a calendar marking off the days until school starts.
If you’re talking about the season, hot weather can be difficult for kids with sensory issues – fans and air conditioners can tickle skin hairs or blow wind in your face (which is uncomfortable for many), sweaty skin makes clothes rub or stick, and it can be hard to transition to more exposed skin after the snugginess of winter clothes.
90. What were some of the crazy things the professor did on Gilligan’s Island?
One time he made a pedal-powered bamboo sewing machine. He was such a nut.
91. Do autistic children like everything in a room to stay exactly the same?
Many autistic kids find change a difficult and scary event to deal with, so having a room where they know what to expect and where to find things can be very comforting for them – they might react intensely when this doesn’t happen or go to great lengths to have control over where things are placed in the room. This doesn’t mean that everything has to stay exactly the same though, but smaller changes and having advance warning that things are going to change can really help reduce that kind of stress.
92. Why do some kids with autism hit their heads?
There are lots of reasons why someone would want to cause themselves pain or injury (self-harm). Some of these reasons are things like regulating their senses (calming down when they’re overloaded or get input when they’re under stimulated), tension release, thought blocking, emotional regulation, entertainment, connecting with self and the world, frustration, self expression and pain regulation.
Pain is a very efficient source of sensory input because it’s intense, quick, reliable and slow to fade or attenuate. It’s also a powerful distractor. It’s not just autistic people who might engage in self-harm, but autistic people do tend to experience more situations which are overloading and painful, so have a greater need for this kind of behaviour.
You can learn more about self-harm in the article Stimming and Self-Harm.
93. Do autistic children like to sniff and feel hair?
A lot of kids are sensory seekers, which means they seek out certain types of input to stimulate their sensory systems – and hair is a wonderful source of both olfactory and touch sensations (especially when it’s long and soft). There are also a lot of kids who are overly sensitive to sensations, particularly smells, and might be able to detect that coconut shampoo you’re using from across the room. But this kind of sensory behaviour isn’t restricted to just autistic kids, and not all autistic kids will have sensory issues.
94. What is a choice board?
It’s a visual tool that can help kids with making choices, which might seem like a straightforward task but is actually a complex series of steps – listening to all of the options, remembering what they are, choosing one and then telling someone about it. Autistic kids can have trouble with any or all of these, so a choice board is a way of visually presenting the options to them. They can see what’s available, take their time considering each one, communicate their choice more easily and even go back to the beginning if they get stuck. Did you know that you can use Pinterest to make an online choice board?
95. How can a friend help someone with autism?
96. How do I help kids with autism?
I love these questions so much. And I wish there was an easy straight-forward answer, but there’s no one solution here – autistic people are all unique and have individual needs and challenges. So one of the best things you can do to help someone with autism is to learn more about what those needs and challenges might be… asking the person what kind of help they might need (if any) is a great place to start.
97. Do children with autism like bottles and caps?
I’m sure some do, yes. I’m sure many non-autistic children also enjoy bottles and caps.
98. What are things autistic kids can’t do?
While there might be things about being autistic that makes some stuff challenging or difficult (including social interaction, spoken language, auditory and sensory processing) there is nothing that autistic people can’t do.
99. What is echolalia?
Echolalia is a repetitive speech behaviour, where words or sounds from another source (like a video, song or previous conversation) are echoed back. You might see it incorrectly referred to as ‘purposeless repetition’, but it most definitely has a purpose and is neither meaningless nor mindless.
If your question wasn’t answered here, check out the second installment called (oddly enough) 99 More Questions About Autism.
Last updated 22 Nov, 2017 by Bec Oakley