World Autism Awareness Day: Recognising the Unique Strengths of Students with Autism

With World Autism Awareness Day being on the 2nd of April this year, there is no better time to build a real understanding of autism. Even though most people are aware of autism, many lack understanding, which creates a lack of acceptance, makes it difficult for people on the autism spectrum to have their disability recognised and can make it harder to access the supports they need. It is important to know that autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that it affects people in different ways, with each individual having their own unique set of strengths and challenges. To celebrate World Autism Day this year, we want to recognise some of the unique strengths of students who have autism and support in building the world’s understanding.

Building An Understanding Of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder, commonly known as ASD, affects how people communicate, interact with others and make sense of the world.

It’s a life-long developmental disability that occurs before, or shortly after birth, though scientists still don’t have definite answers about why, how, or when it develops. Autism impacts how the brain is structured and how it functions. This is called neurodivergency and autism is just one type of neurodivergence. (Having “typical” brain structure and function is known as neurotypical.) People who have autism have a wide range of intelligence and abilities. Some of the smartest and most successful people in the world are autistic! It is also important to understand that many autistic people feel autism is an integral part of their identity, just like their gender or nationality. For many, it is a key piece of who they are.

Autism impacts everyone differently, but it can cause difficulties with communication and/or social interaction. Autistic people may have intense interests and/or may partake in repetitive behaviours. They may have sensory differences, such an oversensitivity or under sensitivity to things like sounds, smells or touch. Autistic people may also behave in ways that seem different or challenging, but remember, they are navigating a world that wasn’t built for people with differences in their brain structure and function, and that can be really challenging in itself! It’s important to remember that autistic individuals also have great strengths and abilities, which aren’t as commonly discussed.

What Are Some Strengths Of Students With Autism?

The strengths of autistic students can often be forgotten or overlooked, especially as there are many autism stereotypes and the conversation about autism often focuses only on the challenges. Autistic students have so many strengths and abilities that should be recognised and celebrated!

Excellent Memory Skills

Many people on the autism spectrum have amazing memory skills. Some students may be able to memorise and absorb information very quickly, as well as recall large amounts of information, like chunks of text from a book, conversations from movies or specific and in depth details about topics. The University of Montreal’s research has found evidence of strong memory capacity in individuals with ASD, adding that they are less likely to misremember information than people who don’t have ASD, even information they encountered weeks prior.

Great Attention to Detail

Autistic individuals can often be quite detail-oriented and are easily able to notice things that others don’t. Many people on the spectrum are very precise and technically minded, which can help them to excel in technical and logical academic subjects such as science, engineering and mathematics.

Strong Visual Skills

Students with ASD tend to have brains that allocate more resources towards visual processing, which means students with autism can have strong visual learning and thinking skills, using written reminders, photos, visual subject material and diagrams can really enhance learning. This also means that they can have exceptional visual spatial sense and/or artistic skill.

Great At Problem Solving

In a joint study between the University of Montreal and Harvard University, researchers found that individuals with ASD were able to problem solve an average of 40 percent faster than individuals with neurotypical brain development. Scientists found they were able to do this because they had more advanced perception and processing abilities.

Have In Depth Knowledge Of Subjects Of Interest

Autistic people can be very passionate about what interests them. This passion can help them to learn a lot about a topic, often very quickly, and develop a deep understanding of the subject matter. Students may also have a very high level of motivation for topics and activities that are of interest and may be able to concentrate for long periods of time and teach others about the topic.

Some Other Strengths of Students With Autism

It’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum and will impact every individual differently. Though autism often creates many challenges, for many autistic people, it can also be a superpower! Like everyone, there are many things that autistic people can excel at, here are just a few additional strengths that autistic students may possess.

  • Logical thinking ability
  • Ability to carry out tasks with a high degree of accuracy
  • Exceptional honesty and reliability
  • Being dependable in regards to schedules and routines
  • Having an excellent sense of direction
  • Very punctual
  • A rare freshness and sense of wonderment
  • Ability to see the world from a different perspective and so bring a different insight
  • A strong sense of loyalty

Here are some useful other resources that can help you understand autism in new ways.