Living With Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is type of neurodivergence that significantly affects boys and men more than girls and women. Autism represents differences in how the brain is wired and how it functions.

While it is a disability, it does not indicate deficits in comparison to people who are considered neurotypical. Instead, it means that a person may need varying levels of support and accommodation to thrive.

Getting a diagnosis can often feel overwhelming. It is important to recognize that autism is not a condition that needs to be cured. It means that a person may need different supports, adjustments in their environment, and coping strategies to live full lives with minimal disruptions to their daily functioning.

Autism represents a neurodevelopmental difference. Some of these differences may be more apparent than others. This may mean making adaptations in routines and environments in order to ensure that a person has what they need in order to function effectively.

This article explores the emotional, physical, and social impacts of living with ASD. It also provides tips to people who are caring for someone else with ASD.

Emotional Tips for Living With Autism 

Research suggests that autistic individuals face feelings of anxiety and stress, which can take a toll on emotional health, coping, and resilience to stress. Some of these pressures stem from societal expectations, which often insist that neurodivergent people must conform to neurotypical demands. 

While the core characteristics of autism emerge during childhood, people continue to experience challenges into adulthood.

For an autistic adult, finally getting a diagnosis after a lifetime of living with symptoms of a condition they didn’t know they had can be difficult. However, it can also be helpful to have an explanation and better understand which supportive resources may be the most helpful.

Understand the Emotional Challenges

Autism is a form of neurodivergence, which means that the way a person's brain functions differs from what is considered neurotypical. However, because neurodivergent people are often expected to think, act, and feel in neurotypical ways, it can lead to emotional challenges in daily living.

These emotional reactions might often mimic other mental health conditions like depression, and the two conditions sometimes co-occur. Autism can also co-occur with other conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, sleep, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Dealing with the emotions of an ASD diagnosis is even more difficult for autistic people who have differences in how they process and communicate their emotions.

Find Ways to Manage Anxiety

A lot of autistic people experience anxiety. One 2019 study found that while 9% of a control group reported anxiety, 20% of adults with autism reported having anxiety symptoms.

Such anxiety may be the result of challenges with daily living, but it may also stem from nervousness about social situations, problems transitioning to new environments or activities, and separation from familiar people. 

If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, it is important to consider whether these feelings are caused by a temporary situation (such as a recent life change) or if they might be due to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can also stem from feeling misunderstood by others. Communication challenges, particularly for individuals who are non-verbal, can also contribute to feelings of anxiety.

Relaxation strategies that may help include using a weighted blanket, creating art, going for a walk, using a fidget toy, or using breathing exercises.

Staying Healthy When Living With Autism

For autistic people, the condition tends to remain a point of focus whenever they are at the doctor's office. However, it’s important to stay on top of other regular medical checkups like annual physicals and monthly dental visits. 

Strategies that can help include maintaining a routine and practicing self-care. Disruptions in routine can sometimes be difficult for people with autism, so finding a way to stick to a regular schedule can be helpful.

Create a daily routine that incorporates regular sleep/wake times, set times for meals, daily self-care activities, and household chores. Self-care activities such as getting regular exercise, taking breaks to relax, and practicing stress management are essential.

Importance of an Active Lifestyle

There are several treatment programs tailored for people with ASD. Very few of these programs include a physical activity regimen. Some people with ASD might find that their motor skills, such as walking or coordination, are affected.

Research suggests that staying physically active can help improve communication and behavior in autistic children.

If you have autism, it is important to find activities you enjoy in order to stay active to remain healthy. Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are as important as any treatment plan involving medication and psychotherapy.

Maintaining a Balanced Diet

Some autistic people find it hard to maintain a balanced diet due to food textures, smells, and other sensory challenges. For example, they may struggle to eat certain foods because they are sensitive to color, taste, or textures.

It may take some work, but it is important to find ways to work around these food preferences to find foods that a person likes that are also healthy. This may take some patience and trial-and-error, so be prepared to try (and probably reject) a number of different foods before finding some that are acceptable to you.

You can keep a food diary of the foods that you or your loved one like and dislike and build a food timetable from there. 

Sleep Challenges

Some autistic people also struggle with sleeping difficulties. This can be brought on by several reasons, from restlessness to overstimulation. If you are autistic and find it challenging to get enough sleep, sticking to a strict bedtime routine will also benefit you. Keep a sleep diary and make a note of the days you struggle with sleep and what you think might be causing it. 

Social Impact of Living With Autism

Social support is also essential for living well with autism. However, autistic people may sometimes struggle with this for various reasons.

Communication issues and overstimulation can create difficulty in a person's ability to form and maintain interpersonal relationships.

Stigma is another significant problem for autistic people. Research also suggests that neurotypical people are often less willing to interact with autistic peers.

While there may be challenges, it’s incredibly important for a person living with autism to get adequate social support. Social support can come from family, friends, and local support group meetings in their area. 

Joining a local support group doesn’t just provide help for the person living with ASD but for their families too. You get to meet other families in similar situations at support group meetings. They can share ideas and resources that can help your child.

Resources and Organizations

Organizations such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Asperger/Autism Network (AANE), or Color of Autism also offer additional resources and support.

Caregiving & Helping Others

If you are caring for an autistic person, it’s important to remember to also take care of yourself. Depending on your loved one's needs, they may require varying levels of assistance and support. Taking care of your own emotional and physical health helps you provide the best support for the autistic person you are caring for

Autism is a lifelong form of neurodivergence. The focus should be on helping a person recognize their strengths and find ways to manage the challenges that a neurotypical world often presents.

Where treatment approaches have traditionally focused on a normative agenda, self-advocacy has led to a growing understanding of the needs and lived experiences of neurodiverse people.

More recent interventions focus on adapting environments to improve functioning and utilizing strategies that maximize well-being and autonomy. Autistic people may find those coping strategies built on natural developmental processes helpful.

Identity-First Language

In some cases, people may prefer to use the person-first term "person with autism." However, many people in the autistic community prefer the identity-first term "autistic person." You can help support autistic people and reduce stigma by listening to their lived experiences and affirming their identities.

Support for Kids with Autism

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with conditions such as ASD are eligible to get certain free or low-cost services to help with their condition. These services include physical therapy, speech therapy, medical evaluations, and other services.

If you suspect your child has ASD or other developmental challenges but hasn’t gotten a diagnosis, the IDEA allows children under 10 to benefit from these services. 

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.