Eli5 : What is Autism?


Ok so quick context here,

I really want to focus on the “explain like Im five part. ”
I’m already quite aware of what is autism.

But I have an autistic 9 yo son and I really struggle to explain the situation to him and other kids in simple understandable terms, suitable for their age, and ideally present him in a cool way that could preserve his self esteem.

In: 7421

The connections in the brain are physically wired differently, meaning that people with autism literally think differently to others, in some cases this can mean acting differently in social situations, in others it can mean being able to see solutions to problems that no one else can see. https://youtu.be/iSJ9tEzgoPg

For those who are curious, my current way of explaining it is to say that he has a “mind that cannot forgets”

When he has sensory issues I say that it’s because he cannot get rid of the feeling of being touched even if the touch is over because it does not forget

When he has hyper focus on a special interest I say that is mind cannot get past it because his mind cannot forget.

Same thing with keeping things first degree, he cannot forget the actual definition of a word when hearing an expression.

Autism is the name given to a particular brain type, which creates a certain way of thinking and behaving, and like all brain types, has certain benefits and drawbacks. The main disadvantage with autism is simply that it is uncommon, with only around 1% of people having it, which means the world is not particularly well set up for the autistic mind. This means that situations such as brightly lit rooms, noisy, extra stimulating environments, (that people with some other brain types find it easy to cope in) are common place, and so autistic minds often need different environments or help to thrive in these conditions.

Imagine if every room smelt of poo, how well do you think you’d be able to concentrate at school if it all smelt of poo? Well it doesn’t, because all brain types can’t stand the smell of poo, the world is set up to not smell of poo. There are certain things that autistic people find it equally if not more hard to cope with than the smell of poo, but others don’t, the fact that others don’t though, and they are the majority, means it can be found everywhere, and so we need to help accommodate the autistic mind in the non autistic world, just as we would accommodate the non autistic mind in a world of 99% autistic people.

The main benefit is also that it is uncommon. That they can find some things easy that others do not, and thrive in areas that others find incredibly hard.

Thinking about explaining to other people’s kids here:

You know how you like x (e.g. sweets), but you don’t like y (e.g. olives)? Well, even though most people like z (e.g. energetic social situations) not everybody does. And sometimes lots of what someone likes is very different to what you might expect, and that’s ok. If you’re not sure what someone likes then you can ask them.

My personal feeling is that a label might be counterproductive, but kids should relate to having unique likes and dislikes.

It depends on how autism shows. I explained autistic traits like this to my first graders

“Some kids have a brain that has a filter. Tim is talking, birds are chirping, there is a car in the distance, Suzy is clicking her pen. There are lots of tiny noises in the classroom. When I say something, the kids with the filter in their brain can just shut off these sounds and listen to me. They can choose what they want to listen to. But some kids don’t have this filter. They hear everything at once, so it’s hard for them to hear me. So if you talk, even if it’s silently, they will not be able to hear me because their brain cannot filter it out. Every brain is different”

From what I could tell, they seemed to understand that. Since I have the same trait due to ADHD, I could tell them that that’s how it works for me and why I need them to be extra quiet. Plus, I mentioned some kids in the classroom have the same brain function so we need to be aware of that (no names ofc). Worked like a charm for the listening practice.

Autism is such an extraordinarily large spectrum, it’s basically impossible to explain, I think. It’s much easier to explain certain traits an individual shows and show how they experience the world.

*I think I need to clarify something: the filter thing was just *one* example of *one* trait that *can* show that I drew from my practical experience. I would not explain a whole disorder that is as complex as autism to a 5-year old on a playground. I’d pick the trait that was being commented on and explain that by explaining it through the lense of the autistic kid, so the “every brain is different and here’s how they feel” route. So, autistic kid is rocking back and forth, kid wonders: explain stimming. Autistic kid screams at kid for touching them: explain sensory overload. Autistic kid is sorting the tools in the sandbox instead of playing with them and gets angry when you mess it up: explain the importance of routines. I find it hard to explain autism in a really short time as, again, it is so drastically complex and individual and personally, I’d try to avoid to accidently generalize it by trying to explain the whole disorder. “XY has a disorder that’s called autism and for them it means they do yx when you try because they yz…” is enough on the playground for a young kid