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Description of Autism/Asperger's

A "stress free" child or adult or adult on the Autism Spectrum:

  • Is a happy and well behaved.Obeys all rules to the letter as long as he/she has ownership of the rules.

  • Has a very busy brain which must be kept mentally stimulated at all times.

  • Is a deep thinker.

  • Is highly original and creative in his/her thought process.

  • Is hypercritical of his/her own behaviour.

  • Will automatically assume that anything that goes wrong is his/her fault.

  • Has a natural wit and humour beyond his/her years.

  • Is intensely curious and eager to learn.

  • Is very independent from an early age.

  • Lives in the present moment.

  • Is spiritual, often in ways beyond our understanding.

  • Interprets language literally.

  • Does not maliciously lie, but may appear to lie due tohis/her lack of understanding the relationship between cause and effect, by his/her literal interpretation of language by voicing what he/she wished had happened instead of what actually did and/or to attempt to meet the expectations of the person questioning him/her. May also lie to cover own butt, make oneself appear more normal, and/or to cover up one’s own issues. This is a learned behaviour. Will never lie to hurt someone else.

  • Is often limited in emotional response to FEAR (the emotion that governs their lives if not brought under personal control) and LOVE (the spiritual celebration of joy for all creation). Emotional responses displayed are aspects of, or responses to these two basic emotions. Fear gives rise to panic or anger, while love becomes a calm peaceful state or is expressed by excitement.

  • Is very empathetic to the emotional states of others and absorbs their feelings. This leads to a state in which they are too overwhelmed empathetically to be able to express themselves. They are so tuned in to the emotional states of others that their “lie detector apparatus” works without physical contact; proximity is all that matters. The emotional states of others are often confusing because they do not have personal experience of them. Their responses to expressions of sympathy, greed, jealousy, praise, envy and so on are often considered inappropriate because of this lack of understanding.

  • Is blind to the meaning of facial expression and body language of others. Needs to be specifically taught what they mean. Does not notice them without a lot of effort and is often confused by situations in which the person's facial expression does not match the emotional feeling that they are receiving from the individual they are dealing with. React to people based on their true emotional state, not to the mask the person is trying to hide behind.

  • Likes people and enjoys the companionship of others, but only for short periods due to the amount of sensory stimulation it creates.

  • Does not have constant need to be around others and tends to prefer his/her own thoughts and interests for company.

  • Will not deliberately harm others. If he/she accidentally causes harm then he/she will experience intense remorse for a long time after the event although he/she does not show this response immediately. Even harm caused during panic or anxiety attacks will be regretted or produce conflict as the child struggles with the concept of who was to blame.

  • Requires almost constant mental stimulation broken only by bouts of intense physical exercise to help calm the mind and release the mental energy when overly mentally stimulated by new knowledge or ideas. Intense physical exercise can also help to reduce stress.

  • Does not deal with waiting well.

  • If he/she doesn’t have an interest to occupy his/her mind, mental energy can be converted quickly into mischievous acts. A mischievous twinkle in his/her eye will signal that he/she is either about to so something or has just done it.

  • Is non-competitive. If involved in sport, it is usually an individual event where his/her focus is on improving his own performance rather than on competing.

  • Is an observer rather than a participant in most social or sports activities. May like to participate, but fears rejection from past experience.

  • Is a night owl - prefers to sleep during the day, especially if photophobic. Some sleep problems are due to gastrointestinal distress or other medical problems.

  • Is a willing helper, but needs to be specifically asked to help. Will interrupt this message literally.

  • Has a limited understanding of the social use of language or the pragmatic aspects of language.

  • Likes to order and sort objects and facts. Plays with toys by lining them up or sorting them into categories. Eats one item of food at a time. Like orderly tasks such as loading the dishwasher or putting things back where they belong. Order = a sense of safety.

  • Has only one way to talking to others and speaks to and treats everyone the same. This is often interpreted as being rude or cheeky.

  • Perseverates or fixates on topics or objects that he/she finds interesting. Sameness = a sense of safety.

  • Regularly talks aloud to him/herself unaware that he/she is vocalizing his thoughts and/or to assist him/her to think through a problem.

  • Is hypersensitive to stimulation: both sensory and emotional. This leads to higher levels of arousal than “normal” people in the same situation, and the need to protect oneself from over stimulation. It also means the person is dealing with a higher level of anxiety at all times. This leads to:Being hyper vigilant to the world around him/her.

  • Constantly analyses input from the environment trying to make sense out of his/her observations whether of others or his/her own reactions.

  • Develops a variety of repetitive behaviors which allow him/her shut down the sensory system when over stimulated or bored.

  • Needs a well-structured and predictable environment to avoid the fear-response.

  • Discomfort while sharing eye contact with another.

  • Discomfort with physical contact with others.

  • Extensive fine-motor difficulties due to sensitivity of the fingertips which makes holding and controlling a pencil or doing other related tasks extremely difficult and painful.

  • May appear to have short term memory retention, but this has more to do with auditory processing problems or being blocked than actual memory.

  • May show no fear or panic in dangerous or traumatic situations where these might be expected. On the other hand, may exhibit abnormal fear-responses to everyday objects, situations, environments and/or people which may appear safe and trivial to us.

  • Has difficulty switching attention so may be slow to respond or fail to hear correctly any verbal requests when his concentration is monopolized by an object or topic.

  • Has difficulty accessing one's knowledge base, not because they do not "know" or "understand" but because they are blocked from sharing it with us.

  • May get stuck in a one track mind which leads to difficulty in interacting with others who are not on the same track and to our description that they perseverate or fixate on topics or objects that they find interesting.

  • May exhibit obsessive compulsive behaviors.

  • May be slow to develop self-help skills due to the painful effect of sensory input.

  • May have difficulty initiating any new activity unless he/she knows precisely what is required or has a model to follow.

  • May appear to be deaf.

  • May also experience movement disorders.


A "stressed" child or adult on the autism spectrum

  • Is experiencing a heightened state of anxiety.

  • Is in a high state of arousal which also heightens his sensory and emotional response level.

  • Withdraws from the world to protect him/herself.

  • Engages in repetitive and stereotypic behaviors to reduce the impact of the anxiety or focuses in on one object, idea or task to protect himself. Repetive behaviours lead to the production of endorphins in the body which lower anxiety levels. 

  •  May also retreat into fantasy to protect himself.

  • May become aggressive in an attempt to protect himself but never to hurt others.

  • Does not understand, not because he/she is unable to understand but because he/she is in survival mode.

  • Is not in a state which is conducive to learning. “When I am in control it is okay to experience stress, but when others are in control there is no way that I have the freedom or energy to learn.”

  • Is blocked from being able to share his/her inner knowledge with us either communication or behaviour.


Extreme stress responses, often termed as "meltdowns", or "tantrums" by the non-autistic world, are actually panic anxiety attacks, the extreme of the autistic experience. It is very rare for a person on the autism spectrum to be in a stress free state. Stress is caused by overstimulation from the environment (which includes sensory stimulation from the environment and interactions with other people); overstimulation from within (may be due to heightened emotional reactions, memories, pain, medical problems such as gastrointestinal distress, immune system dysfunction, toxicity and the presence of pathogens and boredom which is a major problem in our educational systems and with day service providers because of their very busy minds.


Note: this description was developed by Gail Gillingham Wylie through consultation with individuals on the spectrum throughout the world. Special thanks to Carolyn Baird of New Zealand who started the process of writing it up in this format.   


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