When someone is identified as autistic, focus is often placed on the challenges that they experience. Such challenges are caused by underlying differences in their brain's processing and experience, However these same differences can be strengths for the person when functioning in the right situation. As Henderson & Wayland say, "weakness in one situation may be a strength in a different situation."
For the child who often covered their ears when walking into a cafe due to the sound of the coffee machine, this sensitvity may be coupled with exceptional ability to determine pitch. This is a valued skill for musicians and composers but also for sound engineers - a popular career path among teens at the moment! Such auditory sensitivity cannot be simply learned.
For the child who had a cognitive assessment show 'strength in visual processing skills' (a common area of strength for autistic children), their parents likely didn't know what this could equate to. Their uncanny ability to notice visual details will be valued by editing and design teams.
For the child who complains about their school jumper itching or getting the smallest bit of glue on their hands, they might find sucess in the kitchen. Their sensitivity to touch can allow them to sense the exact point at which the bread dough has been ideally kneaded and results in the perfect sourdough loaf! A skill which others may develop only after years of practice and intentional learning. This is just one very specific example of how that skill can be helpful in a real life situation.
Parents often report noticing strong memory skills from a young age, such as learning numbers with ease and recalling facts in detail. It isn't hard to think of the many occupations and everyday life situations in which such strong memory skills can be helpful. Your child may not have to worry about forgetting their partner's birthday or their wedding anniversary, or won't have to check the metro train timetable each day to see when the next train will arrive at their station. Many other people wish for such memory!
While the child who is too engrossed in their manga magazine to respond to you may cause frustration, it is this ability to focus deeply and avoid distraction that can lead them to being highly sought-after in their job. Their attention to detail, thoroughness, and accuracy will exceed their co-workers. Yes, they may have to make sure that they are engaged in motivating tasks aligned with their interests to access such skills, but isn't that something that we should all strive for?
As an adult, they may enjoy an overseas holiday with their partner. Their partner will appreciate their willingness to delve in and plan the trip in detail, ready for them both to embark on.
You may recall your toddler putting their toys into stright lines, ordering items by size, or your child incessantly putting textas into rainbow colour order. If you knew about autism then, you may have observed this with concern and mentioned it to future assessing clinicians. These behaviours are driven by a very strong drive to analyse information and construct systems that make sense of that information. With maturity, this becomes strong skills in organising, categorising, and discovering patterns.
An extension of these skills is seen in autistic people coming up with novel and innovative solutions that other people didn't think of! This is because their brain prefers to look at the details without influence from existing theories or expectations. They let the information lead them and will more readily come up with something 'outside the box' which may be just the solution/idea that was needed. This is helpful in creative design, marketing, and any role requiring new ideas or solutions.
While a child at school may struggle at recess because they insist on the rules in a game being followed by their peers, they will grow into an adult who responds methodically and effectively in emergency situations. They are less influenced by the emotions of people around them and can stick to following the plan. Imagine how well suited this is to a first-responder (e.g. first aide, emergency services, etc) who need to stay calm and follow the protocol in order to keep everyone safe.
While some people find the monday to friday, 9 to 5, employment environment mundane, many autistic individuals seek such repetition and predictability. They will thrive with this and be a reliable employee/employer who turns up on time each day. The autistic adult is likley to produce work of consistent quality, again due to their preference for doing things the same way each time, something which is valued by their customers if in business. They are much less likely to take short-cuts in an effort to leave early on a public holiday eve or to 'cheat' with cheap unchecked materials than their colleagues or competitors.
Seeking fairness and having a strong sense of justice is a powerful driver when channelled into work relating to humanitarian efforts and social justice. Sucessful advocates often continue to speak up despite being ignored or discouraged.
In friendships and relationships, some of the strongest bonds are built upon genuine and honest connection, For autistic people, this often comes naturally - to say what they think and feel. They are less likely to filter their answers just to make the other person happy which can result in superficial connections. Yes, this area still sometimes benefits from some fine-tuning but research from couples in which one partner is autistic shows that the neurotypical partner consistently values their partner's honesty and that they don't have to wade through 'but what do they really think?' worries.
Final thought: There is a quote by Emma Ward, neurodivergent advocate, which says "How we talk about our children is how they will talk about themselves." This should be our motivation to see and express the value in the strengths that autism brings not only to our children's lives but to ours as a society.
Henderson, D., Wayland, S., & White, J., (2023). "Is this autism? A guide for clinicians and everyone else." Routledge.