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Source: Family and Autism
April 2, 2012
Today is the 5th annual World Autism Awareness Day, celebrated worldwide with the hope of getting the attention of as many as possible. One part of that is Light It Up Blue, a united act of lighting up famous landmarks, such as the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House, with a blue light on this very day. On Twitter, there will be a storm of tweets using the hashtag #WorldAutismDay to support the cause. I’ve decided to dedicate this post to correcting 10 myths of autism that many people still believe to be true. Please share this with as many people as possible to help raise autism awareness.
Myth #1: Autistic people are all alike
There are a lot of wrong assumptions out there about autism. Many believe all autistic people are incapable of social interaction, can’t speak, or are locked away in their own world with no possibility of getting through to them. This is far from right. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from one person to another. You have all heard the saying: “We are all unique”. Well, that goes for autistic people as well!
Myth #2: Autistic people are intellectually disabled (or plainly put, stupid)
Many seem to believe that autistic people are cognitively impaired and in some cases, this may be true. But more often than not, people with autism have typical or high IQs and some have indeed extraordinary intelligence. However, autistic individuals are often underestimated due to their problems of expressing their intellect – something entirely different from being intellectually disabled.
Myth #3: All autistic people have some extraordinary skills (like the Rain Man)
Many people tend to believe that all autistic people have some extraordinary skill in, e.g. math, music or visual arts, similar to that of Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character in the movie Rain Man (who has extraordinary mathematic skills). But like already explained, the autism spectrum is a wide one and, although some individuals have indeed some extraordinary talent (called splinter skills), this is more the exception rather than the norm.
Myth #4: Autistic people are incapable of social interaction
It is true that autistic people tend to have unusual difficulties with social communication. However, this varies substantially between autistic individuals. While some autistic people are quite weak socially, others’ difficulties mainly consist of little eye contact, closing out the environment while focusing on something else, having trouble understanding irony or double meaning, etc. Thus, the social impairment does not have to be too extensive.
As an example, our JA is considered unusually strong socially for an autistically diagnosed individual and although he has his weak points, he loves being around other people and is such a happy boy with an easy smile, that he is rather popular among other kids.
Myth #5: Autistic people do not have feelings and do not understand the feelings of others
Sometimes, due to the social difficulties, autistic people are considered to be “cold” because they do not seem to express love or show empathy. However, most autistic people are extremely capable of feeling and expressing love though sometimes in unusual ways. Moreover, many autistic people are far more empathetic than the average person, though they may express their empathy in different ways than others.
Myth #6: Autistic people cannot build solid relationships with others
Although it is unlikely that an autistic person will be the most popular kid in school, autistic people are very likely to have solid relationships with at least their closest family members. Further, many autistic people do build strong friendships through shared passionate interests. In addition, although that does not apply for everyone, there are plenty of autistic people who marry and have satisfying romantic relationships.
Myth #7: Autistic people cannot learn or improve
This is dead wrong. Often, autistic people are behind their age mates and reach the developmental milestones later than normal. But when they get appropriate support, particularly with early intervention (when autism is discovered early, e.g. under the age of 3) autistic people can make incredible improvement and often keep up with their age mates in school.
Myth #8: Autistic people have no language skills
One common misconception about autism is that most of them are non-verbal or at least very close to being non-verbal. This is dead wrong. Yes, some individuals diagnosed with classic autism are sometimes non-verbal or close to it but the autism spectrum also includes extremely verbal individuals with very high reading and writing skills. In fact, many autistic people are poems or authors. Moreover, there are some autistic people who are unusually good with languages and are quick to learn how to speak, read and write in a foreign language – sometimes mastering languages in a very short amount of time.
Myth #9: Autism is not a real disability but simply a set of odd characteristics that people will grow out of
Autism stems from biological conditions that affect brain development and is, for most autistic individuals, a lifelong condition.
Myth #10: Autism is not a disability but simply due to bad parenting
Parents of autistic children sometimes meet disapproving eyes of people who think their children’s behavior is simply due to bad parenting. This has long since been disproved. Fortunately, increased autism awareness has decreased such misconception.