As autism/Asperger’s is a hidden disability there are many myths and misconceptions. Some of these are talked about below.
Myth 1: People who are Autistic Have No Emotions or Empathy
I’m autistic and I’m fortunate to work with many people on the autistic spectrum. Something that I come across, time and time again, is people believing that autistics/Aspies have no emotion, love or empathy towards others. This is certainly not true.
Although there are many occasions where we appear to be devoid of emotion we do feel, love and care a great deal for others. Sometimes we don’t express this in the same way as none autistic/Aspies (neurotypicals) which is where most of the confusion can occur.
Although this isn’t applicable to me personally, there are many autistic people that I work with who will say, very bluntly, that they dislike a parent or close family member like a brother or sister. I’m sure this is true occasionally. But more often than not, when you get to know that person a little bit more, the truth is often quite different, and they care a great deal about their family.
There are also times when we will shut off from our feelings, as we may have too many emotions to deal with at the time. But this will often lead to a meltdown where our true emotions overwhelm us and we cannot control or understand them.
There are of course, like many aspects of autism, autistic people who are the polar opposite and are hyper-empathetic. They will show genuine heartfelt emotion to some of the smallest incidents, that do not usually effect other people in the same way.
Myth 2: Everyone Who is Autistic is the Same
This is quite a common theme with many disabilities. Where people believe that everyone with a particular disability are all the same. They see the disability before the person, and make their own judgement about them before getting to know them.
We are, without doubt, not all the same. Although we share some common traits, we are all individuals with our own personalities, life experiences and genetics. We can of course be similar if we share personality traits. But even when this is the case, we are all very different and unique, just as the rest of society is.
Myth 3: Everyone Autistic Person has the Same Difficulties
It is a common misconception that everyone with autism has the same difficulties. But this is another false belief. Some of us can be quite chatty and open, but others are completely shy and really enjoy being alone. Some are very sensitive to sensory inputs where other drawn to bright lights and loud noises. Again we are all different.
The general term for a person who is autistic, is that they have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Which means there are different levels of autism; and the ways it affects each person can be dramatic or less severe. Generally people who are on the higher end of the spectrum used to be classified as Asperger’s. But there are many different types of variations.
I’ve have had the good fortune of working with people on every level of the autistic spectrum and it is certainly true that autism can effect different people in very different ways. People who are more severely autistic cannot communicate verbally or in writing at all, and may only understand a few words in Makaton (basic sign language). Some autistic people are quite violent and can hit out or even bite other people when they are sad or distressed. This is almost never true for people on the higher end of the autistic spectrum.
Because of this misconception many people might not believe that you are autistic, as you are not like other autistic people they know. Or you may not match up to what an autistic person should be like, based on their knowledge of the disability.
Myth 4: Autism Doesn’t Exist
It always upsets me when I hear about people talk about hidden disabilities of any form (e.g. autism, dyslexia or ADHD) as if they don’t believe they are true. I’ve even come across people that should be championing and standing up for people with hidden disabilities such as SENCOs (head of schools, that specialise in disabilities) with this same viewpoint. You often hear comments along the lines of:
- “There was no such things as dyslexia or autism when we were young”.
- “There was no such thing such as ADHD back in my day. The headteacher would whack the naughty kid with a cane or slipper, and they never did it again. They were cured”.
- “There’s that many different disabilities these days. In our day we’d just say he was shy or struggled with his writing. I don’t believe in all of this nonsense.”
And many more. Of course all of these disabilities have always been prevalent. The only difference is, that we couldn’t understand or classify them as well back then. In addition not many people are educated enough in this area to know what each disability means.
Myth 5: Autistics/Aspies Cannot Stick at a Job or Get Married
Although it is certainly true that most autistic/Aspies struggle to get meaningful employment. Plus it also certainly true that we find it tough to get into a relationship. Both of these life goals are possible.
I am autistic myself and happily married with two children. I also work, although I have to admit I am underemployed based on my qualifications. But I am working hard to correct the employment situation in the not too distant future.
Our brains certainly function in different ways, and it is hard to make sense of the world we live in, and the rest of society. But we can play to our strengths, gently try to improve our weaknesses, and find a way to get to where we deserve to be.
I’m sure there are a great deal more myths surrounding autism/Asperger’s. Please feel free to comment if you can think of any more to add to the ones mentioned here.