Autistic Voices Education’s 3-Part Definition of Autism
There are many definitions of autism, and it is difficult to pinpoint one as exactly correct. At AuEdu we have a 3-Part Definition:
Autism is a naturally occurring neurological condition that causes people to sense, perceive, and experience life in a different way than people who aren’t autistic
Being autistic is an integral part of a person
Autism is a disability according to the social model of disability
This definition is not complete and might change in the future. While AuEdu’s definition is unique in its wording and format, it is not unique in the basic ideas it expresses, and is similar to the definitions by other autistic advocates.
How do you know you’re autistic?
Autistic people show lots of autistic traits.
Autistics, like all people, are unique. But our neurology (the way our brain is wired) causes us to share similar characteristics and traits.
Autistic traits are commonly called symptoms. Calling them symptoms, however, makes it seem like they’re bad.
Autistic traits are not inherently bad OR good. They can be either, or neither. We choose to call them traits in order to show this.
But wait – some people’s autistic traits do have negative, harmful, or unpleasant expressions. We don’t mean to discount that at all.
However, when we call these symptoms, our brains talk about treatments and cures. When we call them traits, the language then becomes understanding and support. Understanding and support are the best foundation from which to make parenting decisions about how to best help a kid with a lot of support needs.
All about autistic special interests and how parents can support their kid who has them.
Autistic Special Interests are narrow, but deep and passionate, interests in topics or subjects. What do they mean for families of autistic kids?
What are autistic special interests?
While many people are very passionate about something, an Autistic Special Interest is not just a hobby. It’s something more. If you haven’t experienced this yourself, it’s hard to describe and understand, but anyone who has been enraptured by the hold of a special interest knows this firsthand!
Studies have shown that 75% to 95% of autistic people have special interests, and having these are one of the criteria for knowing someone’s autistic. (informal eval post)
In traditional diagnostic models, these Special Interests (or SpIns) are called “restricted behaviors.” Other terms used include obsessions or fixations.
These words, for many, imply an abnormal or other-ness to having these interests. Since we use the Neurodiversity Model of Autism, we don’t assign a positive or negative value to Special Interests. They just are.
However, as you’ll see later in this post, SpIns can have an amazingly positive affect for autistic kids.
Why do autistic people have special interests?
SpIns are inherent in autistic people. They come naturally, and because they are self-motivated and intrinsic, the ability to concentrate on them and learn massive volumes of information about them is amazing.
Even kids that find it difficult to concentrate on other things like schoolwork will often be able to dedicate an intense amount of time and concentration to their special interests.
These interests are often very important and meaningful to the individual.
Parents have told us that when their kid talks about their special interest, they become really engaged, enthusiastic, and will often be able to recite many facts from memory.
Calming, positive, and interesting, a break or reprieve from other demands…the lived autistic experience is often that special interests are a positive thing in one’s life.
What should I do about my kid’s special interests?
There’s lots of advice for parents of autistic kids out there. Some will say that special interests are too narrow and will “hijack family life.” Others warn that allowing kids to have special interests will cause your kid to throw tantrums.
With even more doom and gloom, some even say that SpIns prevent autistic kids from learning.
These things, when you really think about it, are complete hyperbole – “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.”
All of these negative ways to view someone’s likes and passions are one perspective, and unfortunately one that isn’t helpful in raising a happy, authentic autistic kid.
Instead of using purposefully negative language, let’s use purposefully neutral language. How can families talk about their autistic kid’s special interests without automatically making it seem like a problem?
Here’s some examples.
Autistic kids sometimes love to talk about their special interests….and nothing else.
In non-autistic social environments like most schools or daycares, autistic kids can have trouble relating to others due to their intense focus on their SpIn.
However, when people meet others who are similarly passionate about their special interest, they can form friendships with them rather quickly!
Kids have an amazing capacity to learn about their special interests.
Understanding and Accepting Special Interests
When we’re REAL about someone’s special interests, we can view the situation logically.
Understanding means that we can make informed decisions.
Accepting means we’ll make confident ones.
When cultivated…when encouraged…when fully participated in…families can help autistics learn so much from their special interests.
It’s not always about the interest itself. It’s also about:
Asking questions we’re truly curious about, and then figuring out how to find the answers
Fitting new pieces of information into what we already know
But even when they don’t turn into careers, here’s what they do for us:
Build self confidence
Problem solving skills
Building a community with others who are interested in the same thing
The foundation to build upon your autistic kid’s special interests is already there. Whenever they are, whatever co-occurring conditions or disabilities they have, you can help them cultivate their special interest.
When YOU as their caregiver take interest in their special interest, it shows that you respect them. If they bring you along on their journey alongside it, it shows you they trust you.
Common special interests for autistic kids, adolescents, and teens
There are some common and even stereotypical autistic special interests, but individuals may have extremely specific or unique or quirky interests. Here’s a list of ones we’ve seen in ourselves, friends, colleagues, or on the internet.
Animals in general or a specific animal
Art, a specific kind of art, art history
Bands, musical artists, genres, or groups
Books, in general, a specific book or series or author
Calligraphy or handwriting
Cars or other vehicles such as trucks, heavy machinery
Clothing and fashion
Coding, coding languages, web design or app building
Collecting items: a specific brand of statuettes, postcards
Dungeons and Dragons
Sports, a specific sport, sports statistics and facts
Movies, specific movies
Nature, being outside, hiking, camping, backpacking
Plants and gardening
Science, a specific subject in science, a research topic
TV shows, series
Video games, in general or specific games
Writing – fiction, nonfiction, stories, poetry
In research conducted by AuEdu, we’ve asked adult autistics what they’ve wanted most from parents. Here’s the two most popular answers to that question:
Help building self esteem
Understanding social rules and dynamics
Cultivation of special interests does both!
When you as a caregiver are truly interested in helping them with their special interest, they will feel valued, respected, and trusted. Then, when you help them find community (online or offline), they’ll practice social dynamics with like-minded people.
Autistic Stimming Behaviors: what families need to know
Stimming behaviors are common in autistic people. Parents and families have many questions when it comes to their autistic kid and stimming:
Why does my kid stim?
Is stimming bad? Should I stop or redirect stimming?
My kid hurts themself when they stim, how can I help them?
This post is about autistic stimming behaviors and lists types of stims. This knowledge can help you better understand your individual kid so you can get answers to questions like the one above.
First, we’re going to address a common misconception that many people have about autistic stimming.
There’s a hypothesis that repetitive stimming behaviors show “disorganized nervous systems,” and say that stimming is used to block out the world. People who believe this to be true might say to stop stimming.
While the above CAN be true, it isn’t ALWAYS true. Autistic people stim primarily to self-soothe.
Another idea is that some stimming behaviors that aren’t “normal” in society, such as rocking or flapping your hands, should be controlled so that other people can feel more comfortable.
We absolutely disagree with this approach. All stimming that isn’t harming oneself or others should be freely allowed and encouraged.
Why do we feel this way? Here’s why:
Reasons why autistic people stim: it’s healthy!
They feel good
Maintain body awareness, create a focus point for physical sensation
Soothe sensory overload
Soothe strong emotions like stress, nervous, sadness, frustration, anger
Now that we know WHY kids stim, it informs our perspective about what we should do about it.
What are stimming behaviors?
Stimming behaviors are done repeatedly, and often, and usually for the purposes of calming and soothing.
According to the DSM-5 these are the “repetitive and restrictive” behaviors that make up part of the diagnostic criteria for autism.
Types of Stimming Behaviors
This can include music, sounds, videos, or other ways to make noise. For some, auditory stimming can seem beautiful…but to others, it can seem chaotic.
This almost always manifests as chewing on things like clothes, hair, fingers, gum, or anything they can get their hands on.
Stimming this way involves touching things or doing things with your hands.
Moving around, jumping, spinning, running, and doing other things with your body are ways to do vestibular stimming.
Visual senses are stimulated by looking at patterns, artwork, videos, glitter, or other such visual aids.
Vocal / Verbal Stimming
This stimming includes saying words or phrases, singing, repeating things, laughing, yelling/shrieking, making noises, and any number of other loud things with the vocal cords.
List of Stims
This list is by no means complete! All of these, when done in repeatedly and especially in order to soothe or calm oneself, are stimming behaviors.
Arranging and rearranging objects like toys
Biting hair, pen caps, finger nails
Blinking repetitively, quickly, really hard
Blowing raspberries, blowing lips
Buttoning and unbutton, snapping and unsnapping
Clenching muscles, jaw, buttcheeks
Dancing, wiggling and writhing around
Drummings fingers, hands on thighs
Exercising like running, weight lifting, stretching (usually in older children)
Eye tracking, peering from the corners of the eyes
Feeling textures such as fur, blankets, fuzzy things, shiny things, smooth things
Fidgeting with hands, objects, clothing
Hitting / slapping self in head or on hands
Licking – self, other people, objects
Lining up objects very frequently, over and over
Listening to the same sound or song over and over again
Mirror play: looking into them, pressing hands on them
Playing multiple songs or videos at once
Puffing out cheeks
Pressing on / pulling on / covering ears, nose, eyes, mouth, stomach, belly button
Pulling hair, pulling out hair (on head or other parts of body)
Rearranging things, objects
Reciting facts, details, dates, names, places, sometimes over and over
Repeating words or phrases, sometimes over and over
Ripping paper or fabric
Rocking the whole body
Rubbing hands together
Rubbing objects, people, self, textures
Scratching fingernails on textures, scratching skin
While we support the full expression of stimming behaviors, dangerous or harmful behaviors should absolutely be changed.
There are many opinions on how to help kids who stim in this way. Current research and the lived experiences of autistic people overwhelmingly favor non-ABA approaches to solving the need to stim in this way.
Read more below for more information about how AuEdu can support you as you help your kid who struggles with these behaviors.
My kid stims. Does that mean they’re autistic?
Pretty much all autistic people stim. However, stimming alone doesn’t mean you’re autistic.
Generally, autistic people stim for specific reasons, frequently, and repeatedly. In contrast, non-autistic people have fewer stims and stim less frequently..
To see if your kid might be autistic, we recommend AuEdu’s Informal Autism Evaluation Checklist. It’s done easily in your home and is meant to give you info to make your next decisions. Check it out.
Are autism stimming, Asperger’s stimming, and ADHD stimming the same?
Stimming can be related to Asperger’s syndrome (which is not actually a separate condition but simply autism), ADHD, Rett syndrome, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
KNOW THIS: Just because a behavior is repetitive doesn’t mean it’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is very real and affects children and adults and we shouldn’t describe stimming or other behaviors as that if they aren’t. OCD behaviors can truly get in someone’s way of living. Here’s a resource on obsessive-compulsive disorder and how it’s similar and different than autism.
Rosemary Bloom (she/her), teacher of the Autism 101 For Families class. I help family members feel empowered to raise happy, authentic autistic kids.
How did I become an autistic educator, multi-passionate entrepreneur, author, and online business owner? More importantly, why am I passionate about teaching the online Autism 101 For Families class?
Here’s my story. It’s a long story, and it’s personal. But I think if your heart is open, it’ll show you why you can trust me for your autism education needs.
My story’s about an autistic gal (ME) trying to make sense of this world and my place in it. How can I take care of myself and contribute to others while living true to myself and accommodating my disability?
Are you paying attention? Is your heart open? Here’s my heart on my sleeve.
Since I’m all weird about storytelling, I’m going to start in the middle.
I have degrees in Geology and Secondary Science Education, and for a long time I was an award-winning middle school science teacher. I excelled in Ms. Frizzle style antics as well as in project-based learning and lesson planning.
My expertise led me to developing professional development opportunities for my colleagues, as well as presenting at national science education conferences.
In addition all that, I’ve also been a(n):
Professional circus performer
Online English teacher
Chauffeur for a rideshare app
Service industry professional
Salad bar specialist
Forestry technician (I’m an A-faller), trail dog, plant-haulin’ dirtbag
Why in the bajeezus have I done so much stuff? Can’t I just stick with something?
Well, I owe my drive to achieve things to support and application of my Autistic Special Interests.
I can’t really stick with something, cuz of the ADHD, so instead I throw myself passionately at what I love… and I do it well.
When I was a kid, my autistic traits were a problem. I was anxious, shy, and unsure of myself. Social situations confused and traumatized me. My family was rather poor.
At school, sensory issues made life very, very, very hard. I faked stomach ailments as much as possible in order to stay home (in reality what was hurting was my brain from all the lights and noise and talking and hard chairs with desks).
Struggling in a neurotypical world made me a moody, irritable, secretive, anti-social, and aggressive adolescent. In retaliation to my social woes, I pushed everyone away. I spent all my time growling to heavy metal music and furiously writing in my journal.
What made me put the pencil down and leave my poster-covered bedroom? How did I go from death-obsessed to parent-empowerment-obsessed?
Here was my turning point.
How I Got Here
At a low point in my early twenties, I decided I was going to go to college and be a teacher. Even though I hated school as a child I wanted to return and make things better for kids like me.
I got a GED (high school dropout) and immediately spent the next six years being Obsessive and Perfectionist about my 4.0 GPA (yup).
Did I mention that while I earned a 4.0 with a science degree and a teaching degree, I also supported myself as a non-traditional student working full time at jobs on and off campus – including:
Continuing my career as a service industry professional
Small group math, science, and Spanish tutoring
Teaching assistant for Geology 101 course
Student assistant for the Center for STEM Learning
Private tutor for university student athletes
Teaching assistant for Geology Field Courses
I also served as:
Undergraduate Student Representative to the University of Kansas Department of Geology
President of KU Geology Club
Secretary of Sigma Gamma Epsilon Honor Society for the Earth Sciences
Vice President of National Science Teachers Association KU Student Chapter
All of these amazing things that make my resume over a page long, at the expense of my social life, friends, and lasting injuries to my executive functioning skills and mental health.
First Generation College Graduate
After graduating college with distinction, I got the third job I interviewed for and began teaching 8th grade science in the Kansas City, Kansas Public School District.
I taught at the kind of school where, when you say the name, people go “oh isn’t that a rough neighborhood” ….which I always had a feeling was racism.
After two years, I got a job at the school district I attended myself, North Kansas City Schools. This felt like a true accomplishment, a real homecoming, a culmination of my hard work – AND IT WAS!
My new district was suburban, but I taught at that one school in the district where, when you say the name, people go “are you eyeing the district website for jobs at That School Further North?” …which again, I always had a feeling was racism.
I excelled at crafting fun, relatable, truly immersive lesson plans that got kids excited to learn about science. I won awards, presented at conferences, and took lots of opportunities to further my training and join extra committees.
But something felt…off.
Autistic At Work and Life
When I was a teacher, I never doubted why I got up in the morning. I put a smile on my face and held all of my shit together for the kids.
But soon, I was having difficulties not only outside of work, but at work as well.
First off, I pushed away friends and family who cared about me, and didn’t place appropriate boundaries for myself and others.
Soon, I started slacking off all the “not fun” parts of work: anything that didn’t involve the kids. I still coached cross country and track, supervised breakfast, and taught my heart out.
But I didn’t want to collaborate to plan. Or attend meetings. I didn’t want to go the extra mile. Or lesson plan. Or even like… be nice to my workers.
(They weren’t always nice to me anyway.)
When I’d express my discomfort with work, people would say things like, “don’t you think it would be easier at A Private School?”
It wasn’t the kids.
It was the Public School System (which I have more than a few things to say about)…
But it was also me.
It turned out that the same autistic-unfriendly sensory environment that made me hate school as a kid didn’t change when I was a teacher.
I ended my fulfilling career just in time, at the end of 2019. I spent The Coronavirus of 2020 working outside with a chainsaw in the American West, clearing wildland fire hazards in national parks and repairing cow fences on BLM land.
I loved sleeping in a tent, getting up at 5am, hauling 60 pounds worth of chainsaw and gas up a steep forest hill, felling a tree, then eating M&Ms.
But alas, I’m in my thirties, and while I sure do like being an A-feller I couldn’t do that forever. So during that time I was dreaming of a way I could combine all of my passions…all of my goals…and create a career that was everything I wanted.
My talent for teaching… without the corporate-style overhead
My drive to be a part of something bigger than myself… without the boxes of someone else’s organization
A financially stable career… that works with my neurodivergent traits, not against them
That’s how my dream for my company was born.
Why I Teach This Class
Autistic Voices Education is a way I can increase autistic acceptance in this world, improving the lives of kids and adults and myself, without compromising my sensory needs.
I can educate people and run my business completely online. The online environment – largely thanks to accommodations made during the pandemic – has been pivotal to my success as an autistic business owner.
When I work outside the home, I can’t fully apply my skills and talents because the sensory environment is too exhausting. Verbal speech is too difficult, so I miss out on conversations.
Online, I am extroverted. My processing speed with text is way faster, so my conversations are more clear and fluid.
The online Autism 101 For Families Beta class is enrolling starting May 15th! This class is all about empowering families to raise happy, authentic autistic kids through understanding, accepting, and supporting autism.
In this three week class, you’ll learn the foundations to understanding, accepting, and supporting your autistic kid – and by extension, all autistic people.
If you’re already on the list to enroll, that’s awesome. If not, you can sign up here.
While we’re finishing things up for the class, we’re also making plans for the future. We know that families of autistic kids have more needs for support than just a three week class.
This survey asks you what kind of support you need as you raise your autistic kid. We’ll use the results to create a membership service that helps the most.
Autistic Voices Education is founded by Rosemary Bloom (she/her), teacher of the online Autism 101 For Families class. Rosemary is a teacher and a multi-passionate entrepreneur. She wants to help YOU feel good about raising happy, authentic autistic kids. Find out more about her and the company here.
Here’s knowledge, empowerment, and resources so that you’ll make confident decisions about how to keep your autistic kid safe.
Here’s knowledge, empowerment, and resources so that you’ll make confident decisions about how to keep your autistic kid safe.
For most parents, keeping their child safe is of the utmost importance. Autistic kids sometimes have specific safety considerations.
Autistic kids have been known to elope – disappear, run away. This is frightening when it happens at school or in a public place and you can’t find them. If your kid is nonspeaking, that can further complicate their ability to find their way back to you.
While you hope that nothing ever happens to your kid, a situation as simple as getting lost in a store or as complicated as wandering away at a crowded public place can happen.
Informing Medical / Emergency Professionals
In this section we’re going to explore some different ways you can alert emergency professionals that your kid is autistic and/or nonspeaking.
This is important because you want them to know why someone might appear unresponsive or uncooperative.
First we’ll talk about a couple ways that have more CONS than pros, and then ways we recommend trying first.
Autism car window stickers and decals:
Emergency professionals are NOT trained to look for these, so they probably won’t even see it
Advertising a disabled child on a vehicle presents a safety concern in and of itself (this is a RARE danger, but someone who does want to abduct a child may think a nonverbal one is easier)
Can also be used with intention of avoiding unwanted/unwelcome comments or judgements from others… but do they really make things easier or safer for your kid?
Have the same complications as above.
ID card or wallet cards:
Can be useful in some places
In emergency situations, especially for people of color, reaching for a card or a wallet could be misinterpreted as reaching for weapons and be met with force
Medical alert bracelets for autism (preferred):
Some options are recognized by medical professionals!
Discreet, can contain necessary identifying information like names and phone numbers without giving information to strangers
Autistic kid runs away / elopes / wanders off or gets lost / hides
If a kid runs away, elopes, or hides, they’re running away from something or someone. How can you find this cause and solve the problem?
For kids that just wander off or get lost, it can be as simple as not paying attention to where you are going and not noticing if your parents are following you for one minute or less, or being really curious about something
There are some things that you can do to prevent wandering off. Verbal and nonverbal signals can be made, practiced, and enforced. While you’re working on these skills, though, you need solutions NOW.
Backpack or harness leashes
Backpack leashes and harnesses are one way to make sure you know where your kid is.
There are pros and cons to using a backpack leash. They could give you peace of mind, although a particularly determined child may resist such things. You could fear the judgment of others, or be uncomfortable with the idea yourself.
Here’s a variety of internet articles that talk about the pros and cons of using backpack or harness leashes. Use them to decide what’s best for yourself. (Mostly non-autistic writers)
GPS locators for a child’s phone or ones that you can attach to a backpack or clothing can help a kid that has a tendency to run off. Kids tend to be more receptive to using these then they know why you’re using it, and they trust you to use it to keep them safe rather than pushing.