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Autism Explained: Common Co-Occuring Conditions Wrap Up

Ever wondered what using assistive technology is like? Do you know what ADHD really is? Do you want to know how people with autism often experience emotions? 

Day one of the Autism Explained Summit answered these questions and much more, diving deep into the experiences of people with dyspraxia, anxiety, ADHD and auditory processing differences. 

You might have a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance or even yourself, who experiences the world in a completely different way. Understanding these differences will help open up new perspectives and build your understanding about the unique people present in your daily life. 

1.Dyspraxia and Anxiety – with Tim Chan 

Tim Chan is a 25 year old Chinese Australian, diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, and has been non-speaking after 14 months of age. He extended his skills after he started partner assisted typing at 9 years old, when his eyes were opened to the possibility of connecting with people and with the life he would like to live. He began working on understanding how his challenges can be transformed into capacity and strengths.

Tim says, “things that people do as easily as breathing, can be difficult for dyspraxics. It takes huge efforts to navigate social situations.”

To manage Tim will try to develop strategies around social situations and surround himself with familiar people and places. Humming can aslo calm him down but some people take this as being happy, not an anxious response. So others will get confused by his emotional state and not know how to react. 

Tim described the flight, fight and freeze response which often takes over regular thinking. He can become hype sensitive to external things and the world can feel very chaotic. However with all of this going on, he still attended mainstream school, wrote a book and is now attending university. 

To do this, Tim needed to make his brain wiring work for him. He said having an overall picture and plan of his day, while using assistive technology helped him succeed. He needs a person to be a facilitator which helps with communication. However if this facilitator is not patient and tries to guess what he will say, it often disrupts his thought pattern and he will need to start again. The facilitator needs to respect him as a pilot and let him take control. 

Sometimes people don’t accept Tim’s assistive technology as his own voice. But he hopes people can accept him and his way of communication. For years Tim was trapped in his own world, but through his mum’s belief and a lot of trial and error, he feels he is on an exciting path. 

2. Alexithymia and Emotional Dysregulation – with Prof. Tony Attwood

Professor Tony Attwood is a clinical psychologist with over 45 years experience specialising in autism spectrum disorders. Tony literally wrote the book on Aspergers Syndrome and has over 4 decades of clinical experience, working with many thousands of individuals on the spectrum.

He describes Alexithymia as difficulty in identifying and describing feelings. The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating.

If the person with autism is feeling a negative emotion, people will ask what is wrong, but they won’t be able to define it or describe it. 

However some autistic people can explain their inner world and thoughts through art, poetry and music. 

Professor Attwood believes Beethoven almost certainly experienced autism. Beethoven will not be understood through his speech, he will be understood through his music and his ability to express his emotions through his music. 

Sometimes people think an autistic person is hiding their emotions, but really, they just cannot express or explain their emotions. Professor Attwood provides some advice on using your physical body to help you share your emotions. For example if your heart rate is rising, you can track this on an apple watch and explain it in this way. 

Emotions are in your body – we can listen to our body and measure our body, measure heart rate to find out if you are anxious or not.

He calls people to listen to autistic people. Don’t challenge or try to use logic with someone who is in an emotional state. Let autistic people get it out of their system, like emotional vomit.

3. ADHD – More Than Just Attention – with Jessica McCabe

At 30, Jess felt her career was going nowhere. She was divorced and living with her mother. She felt like she was trying so hard but nothing was happening. So she was determined to find the root cause of her problem – starting with ADHD. 

Growing up Jess thought ADHD was a joke and not that big a deal. She didn’t fully understand the condition and how it was affecting different parts of her life.  She internalised her condition and blamed it on her own personality. 

But since educating herself about ADHD, Jess’ world has changed. She has started mono-tasking to take on certain jobs for the day. Hyper-focus is another ADHD trait that she has started using for her advantage. 

Jess says “There is an idea that people with ADHD can’t focus but this isn’t true. ADHD isn’t a deficit of attention, it is a difficulty regulating attention”. 

4. Auditory Processing Differences – with Ebony Birch-Hanger

Ebony Birch-Hanger is an autistic, qualified Teacher of the Deaf, Special Education Teacher, Neurodevelopmental Therapist, Education Consultant and Music Specialist. 

She explained audio processing difficulties can challenge localising sound, differentiating different sounds and difficulty with memory. 

Group activities and group conversations – there are a lot of different speakers and the speakers keen on changing, the speaker has to work out who is talking and where, the brian needs to constantly localise and work out where the sound is coming from. 

People need to be more patient and give others time to respond in conversations, instead of repeating the question or raising their voice. 

If you want to register for the FREE Autism Explained Summit and hear insights from more amazing speakers – click the link to get tickets:

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