It is understood today that people with autism are a common part of life. What isn’t understood is how they deal with mental health and how others can help them. This is particularly important because those on the spectrum are more likely to become depressed. Being someone who is on the autism spectrum, and also works with many other people with autism, I would like to share the opportunities which a typical person has to make the lives and mental wellbeing of people with autism better.
What needs to be understood about autism at the outset is that no two people with autism are alike. Take me and the people I work with for example. My life is not any different from a “typical” person. I went to college, have a job, am working on moving up, and hang out with friends. My symptoms are very slight. However, there are people with autism who need help in every aspect of their lives.
The biggest challenge people with autism face is connecting with others. This is important because those who have a group of people that they can talk to live much better lives. Those with autism can have differing obstacles in making friends and connections. Some may not understand friendship; some may not know what to do or why to do it in making friends.
Community Means Everyone
There are a number of reasons people on the spectrum are more likely to become depressed but a strong one is not having a support network or community. I remember checking out an autism support group and realizing that some of those people are very lonely. It is important that people on the spectrum have people they can talk to.
In addition to the social considerations, another benefit you can get from a community is employment. People with disabilities often have trouble getting a job. By being part of the community they can have others help them with the opportunity to work.
If you find out that someone has autism, take the time to understand areas they struggle with. Some people need more help and others less. One thing to do if you know someone with these issues is to include them in things you are doing or help get them involved in the community. They may not want to do some things, but the fact that they can easily find a group of people that will be there for them gives them a better chance at belonging within the community.
Break Down All The Barriers
There are barriers in addition to the social ones which can keep a person separated from the community. Some people use a wheelchair while many synagogues, schools, and community centers are entirely or partly wheelchair inaccessible. Also, some people on the spectrum have something called sensory overload which makes dealing with too much light, people, sounds, or texture a painful experience. Additionally, people with autism may have behavioral problems. I remember hearing from a mother that a rabbi kicked her out of a synagogue because her son was being loud during davening. I told the mother the proper thing to do is find a different Shul but to also talk to the rabbi about how to have her son be a part of the Shul even with his behavioral problems.
The Family Effect
We have discussed how we can help people with autism, but they are not the only ones affected by their diagnoses. Raising a child is already difficult in itself, but when a child has additional challenges, it can be overwhelming. Checking if there is anything you can do to help a family can mean a lot. My starting point working with people with disabilities was with a part-time job on Sundays where I would take an autistic man out in the community. I know this time was amazing for the family because they could do errands and relax. There are many of these type of jobs that you can do with flexible hours on weekends. If you are interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org about opportunities and mention this article.
Make an Impact
There is a lot you can do to help people with autism live better lives which are more likely to be free of depression. Next time you see someone struggling to fit in – whether they have sensory overload, are in a wheelchair, or have behavioral issues – see if there is something that can be done to help include them in the community. If nothing else, just knowing the struggles of others gives you the ability to help.
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