What I have learned from people with autism

I would like to give public appreciation to the people with autism who have taught me some of the most useful lessons of my life. Here’s what I’ve learned (so far) from the people I know on the autism spectrum:

1. Clear communication
Many people with autism receive language quite literally. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve unthinkingly said something like, “this is driving me up the wall”, and been met with a blank stare on the face of someone with autism. However, this section is about more than just clarifying idioms. I’ve learned to give explicit directions, and to anticipate when someone might not know my expectations. I can also (sometimes) remember to preemptively explain a few possible outcomes of important situations, before they become confusing. Do I stop using these tools when I speak with neurotypical people? Well, sometimes. But then I find myself tangled up in miscommunication again, and vow to get back on the expectation-setting wagon.

2. People will accept your quirks and faults, if you own them
I have been impressed with how many people and communities have accepted people with autism into them, quirks and all. My theory is that it’s easier for us to accept someone who accepts themselves, quirks and all, than it is to accept someone who pretends that they have no quirkiness. For myself, I try to keep this in mind, and not feel insecure about my own occasional quirk.

3. Saying what you really mean is truly powerful
When people (with and without autism) speak the truth in a room, most people retreat into that slightly-awkward/slightly-awed silence, and think, “wow, you just said what everyone else was thinking”. This is a powerful silence, where people are facing the truth. I love it when this happens, and have been inspired by it. Although sometimes it makes me uncomfortable to just come out and say what I think, I have found it to be a truly important practice. I mean, here I am with all the comforts and privileges of a neuro-typical, first-world, stable-family upbringing and I’m wasting my time in meetings talking circles around something a little touchy? The world needs us folks who aren’t worried about food and shelter to be more courageous than that, so that we can finish our conversations and make some real action happen.

So, thank you to all those folks who have contributed to my development. I hope I can be useful to you too.


  1. honey September 2, 2009 9:57 am  Reply

    Hi Sylvia! This blog is awesome and I’m so glad you’re writing about your experiences, which are invaluable. I’m looking forward to hearing more. What kind of work are you doing with autistic people? I noticed you used the term “neurotypical”, I’ve never heard that before. What other kinds of terms do you use in your work that I wouldn’t know, I wonder? I’m very impressed with you!

    • Empower Autism September 2, 2009 7:58 pm  Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting on my lil blog! I’m loving my autism jobs, and I’m having a great time writing this.

  2. Dr Karen September 2, 2009 4:29 pm  Reply

    Shades of the same lessons I’ve learned with people living with brain injury: say what you mean, don’t jump to be offended, take feedback where you get it, relax and enjoy the journey whenever you can.


  3. Honey R September 3, 2009 9:45 am  Reply

    Sylvia, this looks great!!! Already skimmed through the site, what a blessing you are to the Autism Community! I will check in periodically. I am a little shocked that there is someone else with my name on here….being that it is so unusual. I’ll stick an R with my name so you know it’s me 😉 hugs from Vic and Vince

    • Empower Autism September 3, 2009 9:49 am  Reply

      Thank you Honey R! ; ) My next plan is to review the autism news and do a news post every week or two. You can subscribe to the site using the RSS button up top, and then see when new stuff shows up. Give V and V grins and hugs from me!

  4. Cheri Brackett September 3, 2009 1:05 pm  Reply

    Sylvia, thank you! You have a very engaging and much needed and welcomed message; and a WONDERFUL writing style. Funny, authentic, informed, relevant. Thanks for being such an amazing advocate for all of us!

    • Empower Autism September 3, 2009 1:19 pm  Reply

      Well shucks, Cheri! I’m blushing over the internet!

  5. Megan Raymond September 3, 2009 9:36 pm  Reply

    This is awesome! It will be so helpful for so many people and your personal approach makes the information incredibly accessible!

  6. helene Fligel September 14, 2009 7:24 pm  Reply



    • Empower Autism September 14, 2009 7:29 pm  Reply

      I agree with you about keeping it clear, owning it, and saying it. Also, I can’t wait to interview Zac tomorrow!

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