It can be easy to forget the upsides of being autistic when confronted with so much media that focuses on the negatives. But the pros, not just the cons, deserve to be recognized and celebrated not just by autistic people, but also by allies and professionals.
Research has proven the autistic community benefits from focusing on positives associated with ASD. “Unfortunately, our understanding of potential strengths in neurodevelopmental conditions is limited,” according to M. Stolte et. al. in an article for Front Psychology.
Remember, every autistic person’s support needs, talents, and experiences are unique. The autistic community is not a monolith. Some autistic people might agree with all the pros on this list, while others will struggle to identify with a single one.
Another useful note to keep in mind is that many of our “upsides” also have downsides to them. Whether any of these traits have a net positive or negative impact on our lives can depend on the day, mood, and environment we’re in.
The intention behind this article isn’t to make unrealistic generalizations about autistic people, or to ignore the negative parts of being autistic. These are just the responses we gathered through social media and word of mouth within our own communities as autistic adults.
Our ability to recognize patterns can help us excel in unexpected arenas — while playing card games, analyzing literature, or taking tests, for example. Part of pattern recognition can also be attention to detail. Certainly, many autistic people are perceptive of their surroundings, partially because it can be difficult to not notice every single detail of an unfamiliar space or person. While we may struggle to adhere to these patterns, we might be tremendously talented at observing and identifying them, as well as diversions from important patterns.
Planning and Sorting Skills
Whether it’s colour-coding your closet, arranging your inventory in a video game, or lining up your favourite objects in rows, autistic people are known for having specific skills with planning and sorting. Possibly connected to our ability to recognize patterns, it can really come in handy, even if it does require a lot of time and attention on low-capacity days.
We’re more likely to sort according to concrete measures, rather than abstract features, research has found. When it comes to planning ahead of time, many autistic adults are very regimented, partially due to the desire to mentally prepare for all interpersonal and public interactions in advance. This can help avoid overstimulation, burnout, and meltdowns. Repetitive behaviours like organizing can also be self-soothing or stimulating.
The advanced and unexpected reading skills and abilities and children far beyond their age is known as hyperlexia, a common co-occurring trait with autism. It can provide a jump-start in school and confidence boost for many autistic people. It can also help us learn a lot, and as a result, become smarter and more well-rounded people. For many autistic folks who struggle with face-to-face interactions, reading all the time can also be a great escape, and a means of studying human behaviour and relationships that might otherwise be baffling and overwhelming.
Autistic people who care less about social norms are more likely to be behaviorally uninhibited and think outside the box, figuratively speaking. And despite popular discourse, many of us have the capacity to be autonomous if given the opportunity. If you don’t know or care about what people think of you, you’re more likely to do what you want, whether it’s engaging in “play”, speaking up about your feelings, or thinking deeply about yourself and your place in the world. This can help people “be themselves” and, as a result, learn about their identities faster. In turn, that can mean having atypical beliefs, preferences, and lifestyles.
In a 2021 study that asked participants to list the advantages of being autistic, Cooper et. Al. Found that “Pride in difference referred to participants’ views that their differences from non-autistic people were a positive part of their identity. For example, participants were proud that they did not follow the crowd and acted in a way that was true to themselves, which could lead to more progress and diversity of thinking within society.” Rightfully so!
“Deriving a positive sense of self from autism is complicated by the fact that autism is stigmatised in society. This presents challenges to deriving a sense of self-worth from group membership,” they continue. But that doesn’t make self-acceptance and love any less worthwhile.
Strong Sense of Justice
Having a strong sense of justice means we’re more likely to be vocal about our beliefs and be activists in other ways. That helps create change and innovate, which are essential to the health of our broader culture and communities.
“Autism may incline people toward moral intuitions in the dimensions of care, loyalty, authority, sanctity, and especially fairness,” writes Steven Kapp in the 2016 dissertation for his PhD.
While many of us have been conditioned to keep our opinions to ourselves, that doesn’t mean we don’t have incredibly strong, well-informed opinions. For some of us, our strong sense of justice comes from a desire to protect others from being mistreated in the ways we were growing up. Black and white thinking, and the tendency to experience emotions intensely feed into this as well.
Fun with Special Interests
Focusing on special interests lets autistic people take time-consuming, deep dives into a subject, understanding concepts and remembering details to a greater degree than many allistic or neurotypical people. And it can be really good for us! Getting really into something that fires you up can be fun for everyone, but many autistic people feel incredibly strongly about their passions. Others might call them “obsessed” or “weird” for the amount of time they spend learning and talking about it. But it feels so good to gush about a special interest, it’s just hard not to!
Critical Thinking Skills
It’s common for autistic folks to be “overthinkers.” We tend to think critically about everything: What we do, what the people around us do, how the society around us is built, how to navigate it — for some of us, the critical thinking never ends. Like other items on this list, being a critical thinker definitely has its pros: We can offer valuable insight and be good problem solvers, for example — but it can also lead to depression, anxiety, and self-sabotage.
Immersion in Sensory Experiences
Something as simple as listening to music with noise-cancelling headphones on can be intense, cathartic, and healing for autistic people. The way our bodies respond to sensory stimuli, casually referred to as stimming, can provide incredible relief in times of stress. Touching your favourite fabric, or worry stone, or fidget toy can be the best part of your day. Even if you eat the same thing every day, eating a comfort food can feel absolutely blissful when it’s the only thing your body wants in that moment.
“Previous studies have found that ASD and non-ASD people use different parts of the brain when performing emotion recognition tasks. These brain areas are known to help self-monitoring and attentional load, and may mean that tasks with emotions might be more effortful for people with ASD,” says a press release from 2021 published by the University of Dundee. Keep in mind: This research was done on children, not adults, but it’s possible difficulties autistic people experience in youth are actually lifelong. While the bad sensory stuff is really hard for us, the good stuff is really good, too.
Bonding with Other Autistic People
Since autistic people are more likely to have similar communication stylesand experiences, it can be easier for us to bond with each other than it is for us to bond with allistic (non-autistic) folks. Attempts at bonding with allistic people can leave both parties feeling frustrated and misunderstood. In contrast, having other autistic people around you can alleviate feelings of isolation, provide community, and allow you to discover and accept new parts of yourself. If you’re able to, get closer to the autistic people who inspire you by living authentic, happy, benevolent lives. Not sure where or how to get started? Check out some of AutismBC’s groups.
Having the ability to be “like a sponge” for other people’s emotions can be a burden, but it can also help us connect with others, grasp things that would often get missed by neurotypicals, and listen. While researchers currently pushed the idea that autistic people can’t feel empathy, that’s not true. What’s more likely is we feel empathy in a way that is fundamentally different. Related to this concept is the “double empathy problem,” a theory which says there’s a two-way difficulty when autistic and non-autistic people interact.
It’s also healthy! Research by Cooper et. al in 2017 found that “autistic individuals who feel a strong sense of affiliation with other autistic people, and who have positive views about the autistic community (or in social identity terms, they have high social identification as a member of the autistic community), have improved individual self-esteem and psychological well-being as manifested by lower depression and anxiety scores.” And in a 2021 study, Maitland et. al illustrated the importance of “enabling autistic people to participate in social groups, but with other autistic people in particular.”
Expression Through Creativity
Referred to as “the paradox of creativity in autism,” many autistic people excel in creative expression and thinking where they struggle with verbal or written communication. A survey from 2015 found high levels of autistic traits in participants were associated with unusual responses on divergent thinking tasks.
“Generation of novel ideas is a prerequisite for creative problem solving and may be an adaptive advantage associated with autistic traits,” says the abstract for the survey.
We’re not only creative thinkers, but often, artistically inclined as well. In “Autistic Artistic Talent,” researchers explain that autistic artists are more likely to create things that are “outside the box,” whereas non-autistic people might shy away out of the fear of being othered or seen as rebellious. “Creativity … requires courage,” they write.
However, they add that “the process of bringing something new into being is representative of the highest degree in mental health, and the absence of creativity indicates a restriction of human capacity. This applies equally to those labeled ‘normal’ and those designated ‘autistic.’”
So being creative is healthy for anyone, but for folks who struggle to express themselves otherwise, it can be especially helpful.
There are so many more positive things about being autistic, we couldn’t possibly list them all here. But we want to hear from you! What are your favourite things about being autistic?
A lifetime of working in journalism and advocacy prepared me for becoming a content creator with AutismBC. As an autistic person with OCD, anxiety, depression, and myotonic dystrophy, I understand firsthand what it’s like to live and think differently than most, and I’m passionate about advocating for and communicating with others in the community.
I’m also a non-binary lesbian in a happy relationship. Outside of writing, I love to make music, watch horror movies, and hang out with my partner and cat.