Recognising the Unique Strengths of Autistic Students on World Autism Awareness Day
World Autism Awareness Day takes place on April 2. Despite a widespread awareness of autism, many lack understanding of what autism is. As a result, autistic people still face discrimination and stigma. This can lead to delayed diagnoses, limited access to resources and supports, and serious mental health concerns.
World Autism Awareness Day seeks to remedy this by educating people about what autism really is. Autism is a developmental disability that people are born with, or which develops in infancy. It may affect the way people communicate, interact, learn, feel and behave. It’s not a condition to be cured, and the level of support required varies with each person. It can create many challenges for autistic people, but it can also create some really powerful strengths too!
To help foster acceptance and understanding, we’d like to recognise several unique strengths which autistic people can possess. It’s important to note that no two autistic people are the same and that each individual has their own strengths and abilities. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means it is very complex and its impact can vary greatly between individuals. For example, some autistic people can’t speak and need intensive daily living care, while others run hugely successful global companies.
Below are just a few of the strengths that autistic students may hold.
Deep interest in specific subjects
Some autistic people develop a strong interest in a specific subject. They might do a lot of research in this area and become very knowledgeable. This allows them to become a subject-matter expert.
Having a deep knowledge about a topic t is a great strength. Teachers often incorporate students’ areas of interest into their study to motivate them at school and for autistic students, this tailored learning approach can allow them to grow their knowledge and skills more quickly and strongly than their peers.
A deep interest in a specific subject can also boost confidence, communication skills and attention-span, which are always really beneficial for students.
Great attention to detail
Due to differences in the way autistic people think and process information, some have very good attention to detail. Those gifted in this area notice and pick up on things which others might miss.
According to psychologist Scott Kaufman, the reason some individuals on the autism spectrum have a greater attention to detail is because they ‘tend to adopt a bottom-up strategy- they first perceive the parts of an object and then build up to the whole.’
This ‘processing difference’ can be a superpower that helps autistic students excel in subjects that require creativity, high levels of detail, and/or logic, like engineering, technology, and mathematics.
Excellent memory and recall
Some people with autism have advanced memory and recall. They might be able to recall obscurer facts, remember figures quickly or recollect events which happened a long time ago, as if they occured yesterday.
This again comes back to the way information is processed. According to Kaufman, because some autistic individuals may recognise and focus first on details rather than the whole, this frees up ‘visual working memory resources.’
Having advanced recall is highly beneficial for students, and there are many careers where this skill is valued, like roles in the medical field, law, journalism, acting, and project management.
Good problem-solving skills
A study conducted by Harvard University and Université de Montréal required autistic participants to complete the Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (RPSM). This test measures problem-solving, hypothesis-testing and learning skills.
The study found that autistic participants were up to 40 percent quicker at solving problems than participants who were not autistic. The autistic participants surpassed expectations and exhibited ‘efficient reasoning abilities that build on their perceptual strengths.’
Strong problem solving skills are highly valued in the world and are essential to innovation and progress. Thinking outside the box and devising creative and ingenious solutions is not something everyone can do, so those who can are often in high demand.
High level of creativity
Due to differences in the way autistic people process information, some are able to see things from a different perspective. This allows them to come up with creative and original ideas.
This increased capacity for creativity was confirmed in a paper published in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The study found that although autistic participants came up with fewer suggestions when asked to identify as many uses as possible for common objects, their ideas were more unique.
Participants displayed ‘divergent thinking,’ which is an important component of both creativity and problem-solving. This ability to see beyond “the obvious” and extend their thinking further than other people means that those who are capable of divergent thinking are often great innovators and inventors. It can also contribute to being artistic, so divergent thinkers may have a high degree of talent and skill in areas such as visual arts or music.
Oftentimes, the conversation about autism focuses only on the challenges that autism can create for individuals. It is also important to know, understand, and recognise that autism can also create really valuable and unique strengths too. Stereotypes and stigma often lead people to only think negatively about autism, but the truth is, for many autistic people, not having a “typical” mind can be challenging, but it can also be an asset!