Autism Explained Summit: Understanding Autism Wrap Up

Reframing Autism With Polyvagal Theory – with Holly Bridges

Holly has had a lifelong passion for working with the body/mind and she thrives on making complex psychology simple and available to people. This impulse to simplify and convey has taken her on a vast journey where she is now a leading light in autism therapy. 

Holly discusses the Polyvagal Theory looks at how the body influences the mind. The theory shows the stages of fight or flight. She breaks down three states of safety. The first is a parasympathetic stage, our eyes ears and ability to connect with our feelings are in a very good place. The second stage is fight or flight, our eyes and ears shift for danger, our digestive system turns off. You are still present but your physiology goes into a model to deal with the threat. The third state is to immobilise, the body will take us into a state that is more restricted in order to keep ourselves safe and our functions turn off. 

Holly says explaining these stages to children helps show why they can or can’t do certain things. Often children feel they are at fault with their physiology but often they can’t help certain functions. When they understand their physiology, they can start to adapt and get stronger in certain areas.

When someone is overwhelmed, we often see it through a psychological lense. However, when you run it through a physiological lens, it often makes more sense and reduces the stigma. Helping someone with autism get into a parasympathetic state allows the body to function at an optimum level. It helps people to communicate and helps someone take charge of their body. Instead of living in a state of fear, your body relaxes and they can begin to take on more challenges. 

A great way to help autistic people allow their nervous system to relax is to give people space and time. Being patient and appreciating what stage they are at. 

The Double Empathy Problem – with Dr. Damian Milton

Dr. Damian Milton says double empathy is when people have very different experiences of the world, they struggle to empathise with each other. For autistic people, this is exasperated by their differences in communication. However by implementing double empathy, they will be more open to learning the perspective of each other, and this is able to more effectively understand.

Dr. Milton says the problem of double empathy isn’t due to the autistic cognition, it can be experienced by a range of different people experiencing the world in a different way. 

A non-autistic person without a personal connection to someone with autism might not have the motivation to learn and understand autism. A non-autistic person will be more likely to have their world view verified by peers, and think the autistic person is wrong. This causes a difficult social dynamic for people with autism. 

Dr Milton says taking the time to learn about the perspective and different senses of autistic people is an exciting journey, and can teach the non-autistic person new ways of thinking. Being humble enough to see others’ point of view will enhance your enjoyment and understanding of the world at large. 

What is Neurodiversity? – with Judy Singer

Judy coined the word “Neurodiversity” in a sociology honors thesis published at the University of Technology Sydney in 1998. She says it is based on the concept of biodiversity, which argues the importance of diversity for sustainability. So Judy thought neurodiversity should also be used to argue the importance for society to let human diversity to flourish. 

Autistic people often don’t fit into categories. It is very hard to put a label on what autism is. Nurodiveorsty helps us understand the broad nature of autism and helps take off the labels placed by society. When we accept neurodiversity, we can start to operate on a needs-based model rather than boxing autistic people in.