To break down some stereotypes about autism, we spoke to one of our team members, Jakob who shares his personal experiences with us and answers some questions that you may have otherwise never had the chance to ask. Jakob has become an advocate of autism and openly talks about it in an effort to educate and inform people.
What is the autism spectrum? Is there a difference between autism and Asperger’s?
Autism impacts people on different ranges which is why it’s called the spectrum. The spectrum starts from high functioning (which was previously known as Asperger’s) to middle and also low functioning where it can impact people in very significant ways.
What’s one perception about autism you would like to change?
Everyone has their own unique experience of autism. I want people to know that we are just like you, we just have a different way of perceiving the world around us. I want people to understand that while people with autism may struggle with certain things, we may also excel in other areas like memory, music or maths, but that doesn’t mean they all have super-human qualities.
Do social situations make you uncomfortable?
My social skills have improved as I have become an adult as I now have more control over the social situations I am in, compared to childhood where I often had be in social situations where I wasn’t sure how to behave.
As I grew older, I was willing to ask for feedback and get friends or family to tell me how I could improve my social abilities. I learnt overtime how to make eye-contact with people, how to be more confident and how to communicate better. I really took myself outside my comfort zone, working in retail for a number of years and then becoming the team leader. By having all those opportunities to work with others and meet different people, I was able to become more comfortable in social situations.
How do you interpret irony/sarcasm?
Everyone sometimes takes it literally but for people with autism, our brains just work a little differently. When we hear irony or sarcasm, sometimes we take the meaning literally. I’ve been getting a lot better at understanding sarcasm, especially since I work with so many different people, but occasionally I still have the moments when I tend to take it literally.
Do you experience sensory overload?
Sensory overload is when sounds in our environment become difficult to process and make me feel overwhelmed or anxious. Others with autism react to other sensory overloads; this could be light, smell, touch, taste and colour. I know heaps of people with autism that love music and sounds. But at times, sounds become too much and they may need a quiet space to go to for a few minutes to calm themselves.
Today, I make sure I can prepare for any sounds that I might find irritating. If I hear a very loud screeching noise, I can try to block it out. As I’ve grown up I’ve become better at tuning out certain sounds, but for some reason I still hate loud car sounds (e.g drag cars).
I love music and I have played in an orchestra and was also a sound and vision specialist at school. I try and focus my energy on the sounds that I enjoy rather than what I don’t.