The internet is full of advice articles for parents. So just for once, this one’s for children themselves!

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is my fiftieth article for Autistic Not Weird. So I thought I’d do something special for it. I used to be a schoolteacher (and now I work with autistic students outside of schools), and this is the advice I would give to children growing up on the autism spectrum.

 

Something important before we begin:

The hardest thing about writing this article is that all autistic children are different. This is because everyone is different, whether you’re autistic or not. So it’s really hard writing something for all autistic children, and nobody will ever get it perfect!

Because this is written for everyone, some of this advice will be useful to you and some of it won’t. I suggest you read this through with a parent (or an adult you trust) and talk about which parts of this are useful to you.

 

And you should probably learn a bit about me before we begin. My name’s Chris, and I’m autistic. I didn’t know about my autism until I was an adult, because not many people knew about it when I was a child. But now I travel all over the world teaching people about autism, I help autistic young people who can’t go to school, and occasionally I write books too (here’s a happy book about autism for all ages). [All links open in new windows, so they won’t interrupt your reading!] I also have a YouTube account, and I’ll put a link to it at the end.

 

Some of this advice is what helped me when I was your age. Some of it is what helped my autistic friends, students or godchildren. I hope the advice helps you too.

Oh, and fifty is a big number. So you don’t have to read all of this at once. Just read a few at a time if you want!

Here we go.

 

Fifty pieces of advice from an autistic man, written for autistic children.

1) First things first – the world’s a better place because you’re a part of it.

2) Just because you’re different to other people doesn’t mean you’re “wrong”. The human race needs people who are different. Most useful inventions in history were probably invented by autistic or dyslexic people.

3) The world is full of beautiful things, and autism helps us to notice many of the beautiful things that other people don’t.

4) I say “play to your strengths” over and over again when I talk to autistic people. It means “learn what you’re good at, and find chances to do what you’re good at”. As you grow up, playing to your strengths will help you a lot.

5) Everyone has strengths, and everyone has challenges. But I don’t call them “weaknesses”. I call them “targets for improvement”. If you struggle with something, it doesn’t mean those struggles last forever, and you can still learn how to become better at them.

6) You’re allowed to make mistakes! In fact, mistakes are a major part of learning. (I have three university degrees, and would never have achieved it without making mistakes and learning from them.)

7) Use your own methods if you need to. Different methods work for different people, and sometimes autistic people need to do things differently to others. This isn’t a bad thing though, especially if it helps you become brilliant at something!

8) Go at your own pace. If you need to slow down to understand something, then slow down. You can also speed up if you feel confident, but don’t go so fast that you miss things out!

9) If you’re struggling at school, don’t worry – it doesn’t last forever, even if it feels that way. Look at this graph:

10) You know how so many schools have the “popular” kids, and that often the “popular kids” are bullies? Those people are less popular than you think… and once you’re an adult, nobody around you cares how cool anyone was back in school.

11) If something’s wrong, tell an adult. Please please please don’t feel like you’re “not allowed to”.

12) If you tell an adult something’s wrong and they don’t listen, tell a better adult. And don’t just tell them about the problem- tell them the other adult didn’t listen to you.

13) Sometimes, being the odd one out sucks. Sometimes though, it has its advantages. When I was a child, I’d come up with ideas that nobody else did, and my imagination was incredible.

14) Your opinion is valuable. If other people won’t listen to your opinions, it’s them who’s wrong and not you.

15) It may be difficult, but learn how other people work. How they talk, what hints they use, what they like and what they don’t like, what helps them and what doesn’t. School intelligence is great, but knowing about people is another type of intelligence and it’s very helpful.

16) In the same way, learn about other people’s comfort zones. Learn what makes them comfortable, and what makes them uncomfortable. That way, it’ll be easier to help them.

17) I always struggled with knowing what was “appropriate” and what was “inappropriate”. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised that they’re different for each person! Right and wrong are usually the same, but what’s “appropriate” changes depending on who you’re talking to.

18) If someone demands eye contact, stare at their nose.

19) Some conversations are like scripts, and people are only saying what they’re supposed to say. (The most common example is “Hello.” / “Hi.” / “How are you?” / “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” / “I’m fine thanks.”) It seems pointless, but learn these scripts anyway. It’s easier to understand conversations if you know what’s scripted and what’s not.

20) It’s absolutely horrible when people are nasty to you, especially just because you’re different to them. But it could be worse – you could be growing up with their personality! Even though it hurts when people are mean, be grateful you’re the nice person rather than the nasty person.

21) Some people might try to change you into someone you’re not. (For me, it was the bullies trying to make me nasty too.) Don’t change yourself for them. Especially if they wouldn’t change for you.

22) Adults boast all the time about being different and unique. Don’t try too hard to be normal and boring just to please everyone else.

23) If you have creative skills, use them! Whether it’s for fun or whether you want to get a job with them when you’re older, they’re really useful. And even if you’re the only person who sees what you do, creativity can help when you need to feel happy. (Sometimes though, you can get a job being creative. I wrote a novel for teenagers and adults about autistic teenagers being the heroes in a war, and now it’s going to be on people’s bookshelves!)

I’m usually terrible at painting. But then my friend gave me a lesson. (And yes, that shirt does say “autism is my superpower”!)

24) Some of us are awesome at mathematics, and some of us struggle. That’s ok, because we’re all different. But the most important part of mathematics is learning how to manage your money. Trust me, you’ll need that skill when you’re older.

25) When you’re angry or upset, take a few extra seconds to think before doing something you regret. Most big mistakes happen because someone does something without thinking first, and you’d be amazed how much just a couple of seconds can help you.

26) Play chess! Especially if you struggle with that last point. It helps you to think your actions through, teaches you how to predict other people’s actions, and it’s great fun when you outsmart someone! (Adults, have a read of this article for more details.)

27) Have your own safe spaces for when you’re feeling exhausted, upset, angry or if you just need time to yourself for a bit. Stay in those spaces for as long as you need, and come out again once you’re better.

28) Make sure people around you know and respect those spaces.

29) You have rights. Every child has rights. Every person has rights. These include the right to be respected, the right to be listened to, and the right to be treated fairly.

30) Everybody feels anxious. Some people are just better at hiding it.

31) Being brave does not mean being afraid of nothing – it means being afraid but facing your fears anyway. So if you feel nervous about something (like talking to your teacher, or going to a new place for the first time), do it anyway. It’ll make you braver.

32) The more times you do something you’re nervous about, the less nervous you’ll get each time. Eventually it’ll barely make you afraid at all! This video tells you what I mean.

This awesome cougar probably does this all the time. But there must have been a first time for it.

 

33) If you really don’t feel comfortable doing something (or if you don’t like what someone wants you to do), you have the right to say no. The other person might not know you’re uncomfortable.

34) When you say no, you can learn a lot about the other person by how they react. If they try to make you feel guilty for refusing to do something for them, tell an adult you trust.

35) Sometimes people lie because they want something. Sometimes people lie to get money, for example. And I didn’t know this when I was a child, but sadly some people lie just because they think it’s fun. (I know, I don’t understand it either.)

36) There are different levels of friendship. It’s ok to trust some people more than others.

37) Sometimes being a caring, loving person will hurt, because it hurts seeing people sad. Be caring and loving anyway. You’re a better person that way.

38) Whether things in your life are going well, or whether things in your life are not going well, life itself is always an incredible thing.

39) When you’re happy, make a list of things you love about life. Read it when you’re sad. Here’s a list that I made.

Crepuscular rays, when the sunbeams poke through the clouds. I love them so much!

40) Find things to take responsibility for. Whether it’s something you can do to help people in the classroom, or something you can do at home. The best adults are responsible adults, so it’s good to have early practice at being responsible.

41) Listen to people’s advice. You don’t have to follow all of it (because some people have bad judgement!), but at least listen to people before deciding. If you’re not sure about a person’s advice, ask another person.

42) Don’t just focus on what makes you different from other children. Remember what you have in common with them too. Autistic children have more in common with others than people think.

43) Friendships are built on what people call “common ground” (something two people have in common, like a special interest for example). If you want to find friends, find something you have in common and talk about it.

44) There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. It’s fine to want time on your own (and some of my loneliest times were when I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand me).

45) If you can’t talk when you’re finding something difficult, have a signal that adults will recognise. It could be something like holding a certain toy in your hand or writing down a special word. Have a talk with your parents and teachers so they know what to look for when you’re stressed.

46) When people talk about “what causes autism”, they’re usually talking a load of rubbish. There are some very silly theories out there about what causes autism, and some of them are dangerous theories. They’re dangerous because they can trick people into thinking we’re damaged, when we’re not.

47) Sometimes people on the news talk about autism like it’s a bad thing, because they’re trying to grab people’s attention. And some charities only talk about the bad sides of autism, because they think it’ll get people to give them more money. None of these means you’re a bad person. Maybe one day these people will start seeing the good sides of autism and talk about them more.

48) We are not faulty, no matter what people tell you. Sometimes we just find it difficult to be the odd ones out, and there are things we struggle with which others don’t. But non-autistic people find things difficult too, so we’re not alone.

49) If you’re the only autistic person you know, autism can feel lonely. But there’s millions of us out there. You’re reading the words of an autistic man in the British East Midlands right now! Even if you don’t know other autistic people, we’re out there.

50) And finally, one last bit of encouragement. When I started school, I had the language skills of a two-year-old. Now I speak in front of big crowds for a living. If you struggle with something as a child, it doesn’t mean you’ll never do it. Practice helps, determination helps, and bravery helps.

This was me when I went skydiving for charity. If you go through childhood facing your fears, it’s amazing what you’re able to do as an adult.

 

I wish all of you the very best as you grow up, and I hope some of this advice has helped you.

-Chris Bonnello

 

And a bit at the end for adults:

Wow, I chose a challenge for my fiftieth article! A warm welcome to those who are reading Autistic Not Weird for the first time, and an enormous thank you to those who have followed me for a while. (For those who haven’t joined our Facebook community or YouTube channel, you’re more than welcome.

But wow, it’s been a journey. After three and a half years [at time of writing], 1,800,000 page hits, 85,000 Facebook followers, fifty-three speaking engagements, two books and three awards, my life is a world apart from where it used to be before I opened up about being autistic.

More than anything else, I’d like to thank my Patreon supporters. Autistic Not Weird became so big that I literally had to quit a job to write for it, and it’s thanks to them that I was able to do this without losing out financially. If anybody else would like to support my work (in exchange for perks and rewards!), my Patreon page is here.

 

All the best to all of you, and I hope your children gain a few useful tips from this article that they can use as they grow up.

Chris Bonnello / Captain Quirk

-  

Are you tired of characters with special needs being tokenised and based on stereotypes, or being the victims rather than the heroes? This novel may interest you!

Underdogs, a near-future dystopia novel where the heroes are teenagers with special needs, is soon to be released through Unbound Publishing. A character-driven war story which pitches twelve people against an army of millions, it balances intense action with a deeply developed neurodiverse cast.

Amazon.co.uk link for British readers
Book Depository link for overseas readers
Pre-order link for the already-commissioned sequel!


Chris Bonnello is a national and international autism speaker, available to lead talks and training sessions from the perspective of an autistic former teacher. For further information please click here (opens in new window).
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13 Responses

    • CaptainQuirk

      Thanks a lot! I recently edited the wording of that point and must have done a rushed job of it. Will correct it now. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Fractalview

    These are lovely thoughts and advice. I wish the mainstream “experts” on autism would pay heed. It’s so disturbing the misinformation regarding being Atypical – it’s also disturbing the growth industry in ‘fixing’ autism.

    Reply
  2. Angel the Alien

    You are awesome! I wish every autistic kid could read your list. Maybe you should publish it into some sort of guidebook that can be given to children and young adults as soon as they are diagnosed. I think its awesome that you tell them, find your strengths. So many kids with autism and any other special needs are forced to concentrate on improving at the things they have trouble with, and even kept from doing the things they love. For instance, if a kid loves math, he may only be allowed to do five minutes of math as a reward for every half hour of doing something that sucks. Find what you love, find what you’re good at, and let yourself shine!

    Reply
    • CaptainQuirk

      Yep, you’re absolutely right! One main part of the autistic experience is people focusing disproportionately on your weaknesses.
      And You’re not the first person to suggest the guidebook idea! Maybe I should start thinking seriously about it. 🙂 Thanks a lot!

      Reply
  3. Ginger

    This is fantastic advice for all children, whether autistic or not! Thank you!

    Reply
  4. otakuandrandom

    #18…XD. One time my mom insisted I look in her eyes. I looked at the bridge of her nose (or the corner of her eye…I forget). I do that like every time I look at someone now, not necessarily to avoid eye contact but because I realized I couldn’t look at both eyes at once, so it wouldn’t be symmetrical!

    Reply
  5. Tony Langdon

    Excellent article, I love your suggestions. I’ve used practically all of them in my life over the past 50 years. Discovered them by trial and error in a time when there was no real guidance for autistics.

    I would like to add at least one more – be active and get moving! Do something physical. You don’t have to be good at it, just find a physical activity that you enjoy. It can be as simple as walking every day to take in the scenery, or it could be something “fun” like dancing. Your body and mind will thank you. And if you do it often enough with focus, you _might_ get good at it! That actually happened to me – no kidding!

    I went from a total klutz to state level Masters sprinter (and have written about that in a blog), because firstly, as a kid, I found I liked running around, and as I got older, I found I liked running fast, and more recently, felt confident enough to see what I’m actually capable of. And since, I’ve diversified into other events. Some I still suck at (like throws), others show promise, but now the fun is in meeting the challenges. As I said, you don’t have to be good at it, as long as it’s fun.

    Reply
  6. Campbell

    Dear Sir.

    You totally rock!

    Yours sincerely

    An autism “sufferer” (not!)

    Reply
  7. tahrey

    Brilliant. I particularly think those few either side of 30 need printed out large and hung in the public areas of every school.

    Though… I learned how to play chess when younger. And I never got any good at it. Can’t even generally beat a computer on easy (and I’m talking our old Atari ST and Sega Master System, not Big Blue), let alone other humans. Is there some particular tuition you need to have to learn the espoused helpful-for-life techniques (the lack of which I can also identify IN my everyday life, as it happens), or is it meant to be an innate thing that just comes from playing? I even had a really nice set gifted to me on my 18th, and though it definitely counted as a cherished item, it still ended up just sitting around unused enough that the colours faded everywhere but under the pads the pieces sat on, ruining it, because I could rarely get anyone else to play, and when they did the games ended pretty quickly…

    Maybe related to that … I mourn the loss of whatever creativity I once had. There was at least some streak of it when I was younger (like… mid primary school age), but even as I was reaching the transition to secondary school it became clear to me that anything I was coming up with was somewhere between the compass points of samey/repetitive, plainly derivative, overlong, or just plain dumb (and the older stuff wasn’t looking so great any more). Worse still the directed exercises in secondary English lessons, or the vain stab at taking art and music classes with included elements of painting from imagination or composing novel pieces. It’s one thing I’d love to have some talent in, especially as I frequently find myself surrounded by people who seem to be able to pretty much shit an amazing piece of needlework or brushwork or improvised music; even an attempt at making something for a chiptune compilation art compo (which I got a wooden spoon in, but at least included in some way, the previous year, for something that was more or less just scribbles in an old 16-bit art package… that took hours to complete) because I couldn’t make it “work”, and what I’d worked up so far just looked childish, and not in a good way (and it was right from the start even intended to be quite derivative and drawn from existing sources, because of the theme of it).

    Is there any way to recover or develop that particular imaginative flair, or is it gone for good once you lose it (or when you grow up enough to realise your childish formless scrawls or atonal tooting isn’t actually any use)? Like, it’s not a matter of baseline competence in actual performance … I can play instruments, draught diagrams, even repair machinery or have a bash at fixing clothes alright. But coming up with anything new … there’s a block. And I kinda feel like that’s probably an essential thing for the career I’m trying to break into. Someone did suggest it’s maybe a symptom of a deeper depression than I already recognise myself as being in (the lighter forms often seem to be a creative stimulus for those already with the right mind for it, after all), but then that probably means I’ve been suffering it since I was about nine… and in any case, the drugs and what piecemeal counselling I’ve had so far hasn’t made any impact.

    (On that note, I’m trying to “play to my strengths” in all other regards … I know I otherwise have the chops to do well in an engineering discipline, and carve out a good career for myself, even if it means starting from the bottom in a school leaver grade apprenticeship position (due to all my qualifications and experience lying elsewhere, for the good they’ve done me)… but no-one wants to know. The few times I get any kind of callback, the trail goes cold at interview / in-person assessment, often with little useful feedback other than some guff that can be translated as “you’re too old, so we don’t really wanna know, and were just making up the numbers on the day”, if indeed the call isn’t left until the very last moment, increasing the chances that I won’t be able to attend, and they can still cover themselves legally by saying they *offered* an interview… So … if I can’t even get in at the very lowest rung of the industry, having exhausted the various avenues over the last 12+ months, how else do I play to what few strengths have shown themselves over the past 20ish years?

    I guess where I’m going with that, if we’re to make it relevant is… maybe you should have a backup plan in case your strengths prove not to be attractive to anyone, especially employers, and particularly when balanced against other things that they may exclude you for…)

    Reply
    • tahrey

      ((one thing I was meaning to relate between paragraphs; I feel you probably need to have at least a shred of creativity, and a reasonably good short term memory, to be any good at chess. The ability to think ahead several moves, anticipate what your opponent may do, come up with clever strategies to counter that, and hold it all in your head at once… Whilst I’m entirely capable of forgetting whose turn is next, how the castling rule works, or which piece I moved last. Sometimes all at once, along with never spotting a good opportunity or the move that could turn it into a winning chance – which demands a heavy measure of creative forethought, and Taskmaster-grade flaunting of the letter of the rules – until my opponent is taking advantage of my failure to leverage it.))

      Reply

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