Like many conditions, people with autism are often lumped together as sharing all the same traits and characteristics. We would never do this for any other assemblage of society so why is it deemed acceptable in this instance?
What is autism anyway? I get asked this regularly and genuinely struggle to answer. Maybe that is indicative of it not really having particularly definable or mutual traits…or maybe I’m just not very good at explaining things. According to the National Autistic Society, “autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.”
You’ll often see me referring to ASD which simply stands for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Its an umbrella term for all the disorders along the elusive spectrum such as autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
So why are there so many myths about autism? I thought it would be useful to clear up a few of these that I hear floating around every so often. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- People with autism are mentally ill. Autism is not a mental illness, nor is it a disease. However because of the stress of life and the limited support resources available, people with autism very often have mental health issues. And as an estimate (incredibly roughly as I’m not entirely sure how this can be quantitated) one in three adults with autism suffer from mental health problems such as anxiety or depression. Horrific thought really. As if life isn’t difficult enough.
Myth 2. And one I have touched on before…
- People with autism have superhuman powers. Yes, we always seem to have heard of such and such’s nephews classmate who can recite every train line within the British isles but really, is this a superhuman power or a mild train obsession!? Jude could tell you the location of every lift in St. Albans if he knew the name of our streets and roads however, he doesn’t. Thankfully!
- People with autism are antisocial. It’s one of the most commonly heard myths (in my opinion) that socialising isn’t on the agenda of people with autism. Take Jude for example, he absolutely loves to hang out with people, can chat for hours and play games. What Jude struggles with are people who make him feel uncomfortable or situations he doesn’t entirely understand. This can be because everyone is talking at once or just merely because he doesn’t have the ability to create small talk. If you look at how Jude socialises, he gravitates to people willing to work at his level, not those that expect too much from him. He finds this stressful. Jude will happily go to a youth club with one of his beloved carers at school or to the shops to buy treats. He loves attending parties as long as it fits his remit of comprehension. He certainly isn’t antisocial, he just sees things differently.
- People with autism have no empathy. I guess people see someone like Jude, who isn’t great at expressing himself and assume he cannot empathise with anyone. It isn’t true. At school, Jude regularly asks if someone is ok if he sees them crying and he looks for reassurance that whoever (normally Emmeline!) is upset, will be ok. He does have empathy. What Jude doesn’t have is the ability to cope with or understand extremes in emotion. But this is part of his developmental issues. Jude also struggles to understand expression and body language cues from those around him so what we may unconsciously see as someone looking really sad or happy, Jude won’t acknowledge until it is blatantly obvious. He doesn’t get the subtle.
- People with autism “look” disabled. The sentence “at least he doesn’t look autistic” has been uttered to me far too many times and frankly, it’s ridiculous. What does that even mean?!?! He stands awkwardly, has bugger all coordination but that’s just Jude, that isn’t “autism.”
Jude looking as unautistic as he can…
- Autism is curable. You cannot cure autism with tablets, homeopathy, exercises or diet. A holy person cannot rid you of your evil autistic spirit. I remember once a woman trained in homeopathy tried to convince me that Jude’s brain was merely a bit “foggy” (her actual word) and that with a combination of homeopathic tablets each day, he’d be so much better. Now at the time, I was a bit naive, a bit confused and obviously wanted the best for my son. Looking back now, how bloody dare she suggest such utter rubbish! Jude doesn’t need curing, he needs support in a world he struggles to understand. Yes, you can help people with autism through diet, therapy and the consistent help with life but that won’t take the autism away. And realistically, everyone’s lives would be better with those things, not just people with autism.
So there we have it. I’m sure there are a lot more so please feel free to add anything you can think of. Despite all this, Jude is a lucky boy. Life isn’t perfect but we thank our lucky stars that Jude was born in a time of attempted acceptance. He is happy, loved and able to express himself freely in front of friends and family.