5 Awesome Things About Having Autism Spectrum Disorder
Exploring and celebrating neurodiversity
Posted Mar 14, 2020
I’ve written before about some of the difficulties that women with ASD may experience, such as increased vulnerability, relationship issues and camouflaging themselves to ‘fit in’ with neurotypical society. Although life can be tougher in some ways, there are also benefits to having ASD! Here are five great things about being on the spectrum.
Ability to focus and be preoccupied with a subject
People with ASD often have “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (such as strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests)”1. The ability of people with ASD to focus so intently on one subject, often to the exclusion of other things, can be a fantastic skill in so many areas of life, such as research and development.
Organisation and structure
Many people with ASD have a need for structure, routine and organisation and without that, they can feel easily overwhelmed. Having order, structure and routines isn’t a luxury – it’s vital to mental wellbeing. A lifetime of creating order in this way is a great skill, from anything to always being on time to always completing work tasks on schedule. Like many of my clients, I have no concept of leaving things to the last minute. If I have a report to do, it’ll be done ahead of schedule. If it was left to the last minute…it would be very unlikely to be done as I’d be too overwhelmed to do it!
Affinity with animals
I should start off by saying that not all people with ASD like animals (I know some who positively don’t). However, many people with ASD do have a very strong affinity with animals. Margaret, a woman in her fifties who had ASD told me that, “Animals have always been so accepting of me. I can sit with my cat for hours, just quiet. It’s like I know what she’s thinking”. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University explains her affinity with animals as being due to the fact that she thinks in pictures in a similar way to animals, and because of the ability of many autistic people to communicate with animals on a non-verbal level2. Research into children with ASD and animals has demonstrated the positive effect that interaction with animals can have on developmental aspects such as social interaction3. Personally, I have a strong affinity with animals and would rather spend time with my three cats than the vast majority of humans I know!
Attention to detail
People with ASD often have a very strong eye for detail and an ability to find patterns and anomalies. Combined with an ability to focus intently and perform high-quality, repetitive tasks, they are in demand by some companies, particularly in the tech sector. Microsoft started a programme in 2015 to hire people with ASD and tech companies HP and New Relic, amongst others, have followed suit.
Sensory awareness & creativity
People with ASD experience the world in a different sensory way to neurotypical people. Whilst this can be overwhelming and sounds, scents and touch can quickly ruin a day out (I can’t tell you how often I’ve had to leave a room if someone scratches their plate), it can also enrich life and lead to creative expression based on sensory richness. One study showed that people with autistic traits may have less quantity but greater quality of creative ideas4.
As part of living with ASD, it is important to focus on your strengths and explore those aspects of your personality which make you stand out and have particular strengths and abilities.
Note: Today, Aspberger’s Syndrome is no longer officially a diagnosis on its own and has been recategorized as Autism Spectrum Disorder. The discussion above refers to people who would previously have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a condition which is sometimes called “high functioning autism”, which is, in itself, a contentious term.
1. DSM - The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-V
3. O’Haire, M. (2017) Research on animal-assisted intervention and autism spectrum disorder, 2012-2015, Appl Dev Sci. 2017; 21(3): 200–216.
4. Best, C., Arora, S., Porter, F., Doherty, M. (2015) The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders volume 45, pages 4064–4073