Little Known Ways to Understand The Autism Spectrum


What if I told you that the Aspergers and the autism spectrum is a laughing matter?   In this article, I’m going to share with you Ms. Garcia Winner’s I LAUGH model as a way as understanding the core social challenges that individuals on the spectrum face.

4818337684 5fe5c2c1f3 Little Known Ways to Understand The Autism Spectrum

I’ve written in detail about the positive aspects of the autism spectrum.  However, part of a full understanding of Aspergers and the autism spectrum is understanding core deficits in addition to core strengths.  Too often, we can make the mistake of focusing either entirely on strengths, or entirely on deficits.  It’s imperative that we understand both strengths and weaknesses in order to best grow and adapt in the world.

Ms. Garcia Winner has summarized some key cognitive social thinking challenges that people on the spectrum and off can face.  When a person has social learning challenges, it’s like having social dyslexia: things in the social world don’t make sense!
Thankfully, Ms. Garcia Winner’s “I LAUGH” model can help all of us make better sense of the challenges that individuals on the autism spectrum face.

I = Poor Initiation of Communication or Action

Individuals on the autism spectrum have difficulty understanding a) the need and/or b) the how of initiating appropriate social interactions.  As a result, it may be difficult for them to know how to engage in a new social activity, or how to join a group in an unstructured situation.

L = Listening with Eyes and Brain

Due social difficulties with this kind of listening, individuals on the autism spectrum often do not observe others’ social cues.
Since an individual with Aspergers does not tend to observe others’ social cues, s/he will also have difficulty processing the meaning of other’s messages.

A = Abstact and Inferential

Individuals on the autism, due to this struggle, do not infer meaning for social cues or decipher meaning from words/language.  Therefore, although a person may be proficient with reading words, for example, s/he may struggle with actually understanding the meaning of what the words are trying to convey.  It’s one thing to understand the words, but quite another to understand the higher level abstraction behind them, such as the general concepts or main idea of a literary passage.

U= Understanding Perspective

Individuals on the autism spectrum very often struggle with recognizing and integrating another person’s perspectives so that they can regulate social relationships or even share space effectively.

G = Gestalt Processing: Getting the Big Picture

A friend of mine with Aspergers recently wrote a note on Facebook describing her struggle with the social world as the game of Connect the Dots.  She is very good with the details, symbolic of connecting the dots.  But she has difficulty making sense of how language fits into the overall concept being discussed.  As a result, their conversation may appear tangential and have off topic remarks.

H = Humor and Human Relatedness

By no means does this imply that individuals on the autism spectrum lack a sense of humor.  Rudy Simone, for example, performs stand up comedy.
However, many individuals on the spectrum may miss the subtleties of humor.  Thus, they may not understand if they are being laughted at or laughed with.  As a result, they often end up as targets of bullies on the playground and elsewhere.
So there you have a model for understanding the social-cogntive challenges that individuals on the spectrum face.  In order to move into interventions and solutions, this framework is very needed.  I’m grateful to Michell Garcia Winner and her colleague, Dr. Pam Crooke, for contributing so much to the field.  They speak out years of intensive clinical experience as speech and language pathologists.

(photo credit:  Little Known Ways to Understand The Autism SpectrumBy Martin Kimeldorf’s Pixel Playground)
What do you think?  Does this model does a good job of capturing the challenges that individuals with Aspergers and autism face?  Is there anything missing?  What do you resonate with?

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About Stephen Borgman

 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.
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  1. Miss Leslie says:

    Hi Stephen. I’m glad I found your blog. I teach students with Aspergers from time to time. I have one now who has some amazing musical talent. She is very creative and uninhibited in her music-making, but I tell her mom that getting her to leave the studio at the end of lessons is like herding cats! I’m very glad to have this resource to refer to.

    Wishing you a song in your heart,
    Miss Leslie @ Music with Miss

  2. Katy Shamitz says:

    What a terrific summary!

  3. Stephen Borgman says:

    Katy, thanks for your kind comment :)

  4. Stephen Borgman says:

    Miss Leslie, thank you very much for sharing your information about your students. It’s true that when someone on the spectrum finds an interest they love, they are very passionate about that interest :)

  5. Jen from Therapists Los Angeles says:

    Hi Stephen-
    I LAUGH sounds like an easy way to learn about Asperger’s and understanding this form of autism. I love anything that deals with acronyms and what a great title to it. Thank you for sharing this article.

  6. Stephen Borgman says:

    Jen, I’m glad you enjoyed the article, along with its acronyms :)

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