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Uniquely Human

A Different Way of Seeing Autism

By Barry M. Prizant, PhD, with Tom Fields-Meyer
12-minute read
Audio available
Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant, PhD, with Tom Fields-Meyer

Uniquely Human (2015) is your guide to understanding autism and how it affects the people who live with it. These blinks examine the everyday challenges faced by people on the autism spectrum, and looks at how the people in their lives, from family to teachers and aides, can support and encourage them.

  • Parents and siblings of autistic children
  • Psychology students
  • Special needs aides and teachers

Barry M. Prizant, PhD, has spent four decades working on the subject of autism in universities, hospital clinics, summer camp programs, private practice and consulting.

Tom Fields-Meyer is the author of Following Ezra, a book about his relationship with his autistic son. His writing has been published in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

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Uniquely Human

A Different Way of Seeing Autism

By Barry M. Prizant, PhD, with Tom Fields-Meyer
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant, PhD, with Tom Fields-Meyer
Synopsis

Uniquely Human (2015) is your guide to understanding autism and how it affects the people who live with it. These blinks examine the everyday challenges faced by people on the autism spectrum, and looks at how the people in their lives, from family to teachers and aides, can support and encourage them.

Key idea 1 of 7

Instead of trying to control autistic people, we can help by understanding their behavior.

If you’ve ever met someone on the autism spectrum, you know that their behavior, whether it comes in the form of repeating words or becoming overly excited for no apparent reason, can be difficult to predict.

But why does autism cause such symptoms?

Well, autistic people have a difficult time regulating their emotions, which means that all of their feelings tend to be more extreme. Just consider feelings like confusion, fear or distress; while everybody experiences these feelings sometimes, most people learn how to handle them – to some extent at least – early on in life.

However, for people on the autism spectrum, it’s more challenging to filter stimulation, which leaves them vulnerable and sensitive to all that goes on around them.

The inability to deal with such feelings is called emotional dysregulation, and it’s primarily triggered by sudden environmental changes, uncertainty or situations that engage an autistic person’s already heightened senses. Some examples are loud sounds or spaces that are too bright.

When such factors spur an autistic person’s emotional dysregulation, the key to helping them is to root out the underlying cause. What you definitely shouldn’t do is dismiss or try to “fix” their behavior.

After all, when a person with autism reacts in a sudden, unexpected way, say by falling to the floor or clapping her hands repeatedly, it’s not an intentional act of disobedience, but rather an attempt to calm herself down after experiencing something that caused overwhelming nervousness.

Take Lucy as an example. She is a child with autism who was being physically aggressive with her teachers. When the author visited her, the problem was clear: when Lucy was playing a game, such as a card game, her teachers would change it repeatedly, altering the rules without warning.

Since autistic people need routines to give them a sense of reliability, maintaining a controlled environment is one of their primary coping strategies. In other words, Lucy didn’t intend to attack anyone; she was simply in a state of profound confusion and panic.

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