Now Reading: Understanding Autism: tips on tapping into empathy, so you can support those on the spectrum 

Understanding Autism

Understanding Autism: tips on tapping into empathy, so you can support those on the spectrum 

2 April 2018: World Autism Awareness Day

‘One of the most difficult things for me in my life is trying to get other people to understand my perspective. Ever since I was really, really little I’ve had this understanding that people don’t quite get where I’m coming from and so I try really hard to explain it to them. And I guess the fear, or the thing that happens often, is that they just don’t believe me because it sounds too strange.’
– Paul (adult with autism)

Perhaps you’re a parent with a child who’s just been diagnosed, or perhaps it’s another adult in your family. Maybe you’re an educator or community worker who is trying to support someone as they wrestle with this common condition. With one in every 100 Australians now experiencing autism, there’s a good chance that someone in your life is on the spectrum.

With all the helpful information out there, you may already have some ideas on how to provide care – but how much do you really know about what it’s like to be them?

Many people with autism of all ages commonly reflect on feeling as though they’re on the outside of social groups and not fully understood by their peers. Having autism can create a gap in people’s lived experience of the world that is difficult to close.

How do you explain to someone that you’re having trouble understanding what they’re saying because the words sound jumbled to you? How do you ask someone to turn off a light because it’s bothering you, without the fear of irritating them?

For anyone who cares for, or loves someone on the spectrum, it’s essential to bridge this gap in order to connect and to provide support. Autism sometimes manifests in symptoms that make socialising difficult, so understanding and inclusion is that much more important.

What’s the key to bridging this gap? Empathy.

More and more research demonstrates that the practice of empathy (imagining yourself as someone else, as opposed to sympathising with them) is not only linked to all sorts of physical and psychological benefits, it helps you put in place more effective strategies as a carer. Which makes so much obvious sense!

If you’re trying to shape the outcomes for a child or young person with autism – it’s even more essential to teach empathy by example and to help them overcome a downward spiral of social isolation.


This week as we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day, we ask you to take a moment to tap into your empathetic side and deeply consider what it’s like to be a human in the world with autism. Here are some tips on how to turn on your empathy tap.

Active listening.

You may think you’re listening and you may even want to know the answer. But much of the time when we ask a question, we’re not fully receiving the response. We’re distracted, missing visual cues, or too busy filtering information through our own lens. Active listening is a tool used by conflict managers to overcome difference. It involves keeping an open mind, using all the senses to focus on what a person is trying to tell us and showing them that we are actively trying to understand through affirmations.

Don’t assume anything.

You may know one person on the spectrum, but it’s called ‘autism spectrum disorder’ for a very good reason. Contemporary science has begun to understand that autism encompasses a huge range of experiences and symptoms. Find out exactly what an individual is experiencing by asking them about their personal experience.

Communication: be flexible and don’t take it personally.

Some symptoms of autism can be misinterpreted emotionally and that can be upsetting to family members, for example. People with autism may have difficulty reading non-verbal cues, speak abruptly or bluntly, or take statements literally. If you want to connect with someone on the spectrum, it’s important to factor in whatever their own personal forms of communication may be and adjust accordingly. Don’t take symptoms personally, stay open and have a sense of humour. People on the spectrum need, love and value other people just like everyone does!

You may be supporting someone else, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it alone. Torrens University is about to launch a free, altruistic online course to help parents, educators and the general public learn about autism – from the direct perspective of those on the spectrum.

The Voices of Autism MOOC (Massive Open Online Class) is a based off Torrens’ ground-breaking education courses in autism and learning differences, which are co-created with the input of those who experience autism using the ‘person first’ approach.

The course aims to take you further than learning about autism. It’s designed to give you a personal, deep insight into the actual lived experience of autism – so you can provide support with empathy. Register now online, before places run out.

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