Uniquely Human | Tom Fields-Meyer

Summary of: Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism
By: Tom Fields-Meyer

Introduction

Dive into the world of autism as we explore ‘Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism’ by Tom Fields-Meyer. This book summary provides insight into the challenges faced by individuals with autism, demonstrating that emotional dysregulation is a primary factor in the behaviors commonly associated with the condition. Learn how sudden environmental changes and heightened senses contribute to this difficulty and find out how supporting people on the autism spectrum requires understanding their underlying needs, fostering communication, and providing stability in their environment.

Understanding Emotional Dysregulation in Autism

People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty regulating their emotions, making them sensitive and vulnerable to environmental changes. This emotional dysregulation is primarily triggered by sudden environmental changes, uncertainty, or situations that engage an autistic person’s already heightened senses. Maintaining a controlled environment is one of their primary coping strategies. So, when helping autistic individuals, it’s crucial to identify the underlying cause of their behavior and avoid dismissing or trying to “fix” them. Autistic individuals are not intentionally disobedient, but rather trying to calm themselves after going through overwhelming experiences.

Listening to the Needs of Autistic Individuals

The importance of responding to the needs of autistic people is highlighted through the stories of Jesse and Eliza. By providing the necessary tools and understanding, individuals on the spectrum can become more comfortable and communicative.

The author emphasizes the significance of responding to the needs of autistic individuals instead of expecting them to conform to our expectations. This point is exemplified through the story of Jesse, a young boy who had been subjected to rigid training methods by previous schools. Jesse’s aggression was triggered by confusion and fear, which were further exacerbated by his inability to communicate effectively. The author, along with therapists and teachers, provided Jesse with tools to express himself, such as a visual schedule book.

Similarly, the story of Eliza highlights the importance of listening and understanding the unique language of autistic individuals. Eliza had a tendency to repeat the phrase “got a splinter” when experiencing anxiety or fear. Without this knowledge, the author would have been unable to offer proper support and accommodations.

Overall, the author stresses the need to listen carefully and offer support tailored to the needs of autistic individuals. By doing so, they can become more comfortable and communicative, as seen through the transformation of Jesse and Eliza.

Understanding Autism

For people with autism, social cues can be difficult to read and understand. Philip, for instance, was only interested in displaying his newly acquired knowledge about the human body and labeled people in the theater line as fat, skinny, short or “deadly obese!” Many social cues we take for granted are lost on autistic individuals, making it essential to use direct communication. It’s important to avoid assumptions and eliminate any indirect communication methods like irony or idioms. A good example is an autistic child who dialed 911 after his mother refused to serve him dessert, when it would have been helpful to list out exactly the types of emergencies for which it would be appropriate to call 911, like a fire, car accident or grave injury.

Autistic Overcoming Fears

Autistic people feel a deep sense of betrayal when encountered with unpredictability that makes it difficult for them to trust the world. Predictability is one of the most comforting things for them. Collaboration is essential in helping them overcome their fear and anxiety of the unknown. The author tells a story of Jose’s fear of inviting people to his birthday party and how gamification helped him categorize others, making him more comfortable with variety and regain control.

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