Myths about Autism/Aspergers

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.

2 thoughts on “Myths about Autism/Aspergers

  • September 21, 2023 at 1:27 pm

    Bath/shower times:
    Hi Shaun, I read your article on the reasons people with ASD can find bathing a challenge. We really struggle to get our 9 year old to bathe/shower, brush her hair, and sometimes change her clothes. She told us today the washing issue is down to hating the feeling of being wet AFTER getting out of the bath tub and also the feeling of having to dry herself. This is what led me to your article, and it correlated exactly with what she was saying.
    Thank you for giving me further insight into why she feels this way. I only wish I had known sooner, when we would have every day battles about tooth brushing.
    Apart from bribing her to establish a routine of daily showers/baths (And it really would have to be bribery, we currently struggle to get her washed once a week!) Do you have any tips on what could make the transition from wet to dry easier for her?
    Thank you.

    • October 2, 2023 at 5:10 am

      Hi Lauren, thanks for adding the comment. Bath times can be a real struggle and I’ve definitely had similar issues in the past to what you’re facing right now.

      One member of my more distant family who is autistic and in his teens for example takes over an hour to have a bath. Once he gets out of the bath he puts a dressing gown on and then has to be bone dry (which will take over half an hour after the bath) before he will put his clothes on. It is so critical to him that he will have a meltdown if things go wrong around this. When he has a bath he fits this into his routine before school so has to get up incredibly early to do this. His parents have to fill the bath and wake him up so it’s possible to fit it in. But quite often he will be late for/or need the day off school, because enough time hasn’t been allocated for him to get dry after his bath. As you can imagine it’s caused all sorts of issues in the past when time is more critical.

      For me I tried to make bath times as fun as possible so that it is a highlight of the day. It’s tough to give advice because every child is different. Initially I used to make up stories using bath toys and basing it on his favourite computer game at the time which was animal crossing. But as he got older the theme changed to his special interest at the time. Bath times where never rushed and followed a set predictable pattern. We basically used to have four short stories (chapters) about his bath times characters. When he was younger, after the second story, I would wash him etc then he knew it was the end of the bath after the end of the fourth short story. He would even pull the plug out himself at this time. I would always stand ready with a towel and dry him twice quickly and then he’d get changed into soft clothing, usually pyjamas. He used to have one of those hooded towels which made the process easier.

      Doing the things you’re already doing will really help later in life. Such as having a set day/time to have a bath and establishing it into her routine. Kids quickly get to an age where they want their privacy etc and find their own was of managing the process but that does take time.

      I would say stay strong though. I’ve worked with many autistic teens over the years in my job. Most keep up with personal hygiene etc but there have been a few in the past that, for them, thought the best solution was to stop doing it all together. At that age (16-17) it was so tough for the parents to convince them it was the right thing to do as they’re more independant by that stage.

      One of my autistic friends gets around this by turning the shower on hot several minutes before he uses it and turns the bathroom into something that resembles a sauna because it’s so steamy. Then when he gets out of the shower it makes that transition more bearable.


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