Myths about Autism

I often hear or read comments from people which make me rather upset. People who assume they know how Autism presents itself due to lack of knowledge or out-of-date information. I have collected a few of these assumptions and thought I would share my opinion on whether they are true.

Please note, I am only writing from my perspective and from my own experiences with my Autism. It is a wide spectrum with each individual experiencing their diagnosis in their own way. Anything which I write below is by no means ‘fact’.

Myth: People with autism have no empathy

I stongly disagree. I think of myself as a very caring individual, I will always put others happiness before my own. If someone I care about is upset it really affects my own emotional wellbeing, to the point where I will feel personally responsible for making sure they can be happy again.

I think this myth originates from many on the spectrum, (and this definitely applies to me) finding it challenging to pick up on someone’s expressions, body language and tone of voice. This means that we may not be able to react appropriately to the situation and this is then perceived as uncaring and that we are numb to other peoples feelings.

I will never pick up on someone being upset straight away unless perhaps they are crying. From years of observing I know that tears generally mean saddness. When I do realise somebody is upset, which is usually far later than neurotypicals would do, I then have to process why they may be upset and work hard to understand it from their point of view and empathise with why the situation has effected them in such a way. Once I have figured it out and analysed the situation (again, this may take me longer than most) I will feel – as I said before – upset for them and be willing to help in any way I can.

Myth: People with autism are anti-social

Many with Autism struggle with social skills, which make it difficult to interact. This can be perceived as the individual being shy or unfriendly.

During school, my teachers constantly reported to my parents that I was a shy child. My Dad always disagreed with this, he knew I was quietly confident. My reason for my quietness was due to my misunderstanding of how I was supposed to be acting. I was observing others and taking in the world around me, processing what others were doing and slowly putting my social skills into practise by mimicking my peers. It wasn’t that I was shy or anti-social, I wanted to interact and build friendships I just didn’t have the, ‘social toolkit’, which neurotypicals are born with, to know how.

My friends and family would tell you I am not anti-social, I love the company of those closest to me and have made my peace with being myself around them, even if that means I sometimes misjudge situations and fail socially.

If you saw me with a stranger or an individual who I am not comfortable around then I may be perceived as ‘anti-socical’. I have difficulty making small talk and cannot begin, or carry-on, a conversation with someone who I have no background with – I do not have this skill in my ‘toolkit’. I have recieved comments that I am rude for behaving this way. I would never intentionally be ‘rude’, my brain isn’t wired to create conversations as easily as neurotypicals. This struggle often causes people on the spectrum to become isolated from society – people assume this is their choice and hence, the origin of the myth. Through understanding and giving autistic individuals time to process and build a relationship you will see that we are not anti-social and we enjoy socialising as much as others; it is just more challenging for us.

Myth: People with autism are stupid

Autism is only a developmental disability, not an intellectual one! For me, it affects my social skills, gives me sensory issues and makes me exhausted – none of this effects my intelligence.

Autism is a spectrum, just like with neurotypicals, some on the spectrum will have higher IQ’s that others. From much research Professors have concluded that many individuals on the spectrum actually have an IQ above average.

Those on the Autistic spectrum often don’t suceed in school and are therefore labelled, ‘dumb’. The reason they cannot suceed in school can be due to sensory issues or the social setting effecting their ability to learn. Given the right environment and support Autistic individuals can excel beyond their grade level.

People with Autism have their problem areas just like anyone else. These problem areas are often in social skills or sometimes motor skills – finding it really hard to manage something that most people manage effortlessly can really lower your own opinion of yourself. As a result, people with an Autism diagnosis may feel, and label, themselves as, ‘stupid’ – I have definitely fallen into this catergory myself in the past.

The easiest way to banish this myth is by listing some of the brainiest and talented individuals and reminding people that they WERE themselves, Autistic: Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Satoshi Tajiri, Michelangelo, Hans Christian Andersen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Tim Burton, Lewis Carroll, Andy Warhol and Ludwig Wittgenstein, (to name a few)!

Myth: Autism is a mental illness

Autism is a neurological condition that means your brain processes information differently.

A mental illness is a condition which a person comes down with and can suffer with for a period of time only, (for some instances that period can be their whole life). A developmental disorder like Autism is something which you’re born with and will be a part of you for your whole life – there will never be ‘relief’ from it.

An individual with Autism may also suffer with a mental illness, but not always. Depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder are often common in those on the spectrum. Autism is often stressful and stress puts people at greater risk of many mental, (and physical) illnesses’. A diagnosis of Autism, on its own, doesn’t mean anything more than a developmental disability.

I myself am on anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. I am on the mediction because I have been diagnosed with both separately and as an effect of my Autism on my body. I do not have a mental illness because I am Autistic, I have a developmental disorder because I am Autistic. This developmental disorder has then taken its toll on my body and my body’s reaction to the stress and hard work of it all was to become depressed and anxious.

This is my story alone, many on the spectrum will have only a developmental disorder with no mental illness’.

Myth: Autism is curable

It is not cureable and nor would I want to cure my Autism as it makes me who I am.

There are coping methods which can be taught and support can be offered to make the condition more bearable but it will never go away.

Myth: People with autism have mental superpowers

This is 100% true. We are superheroes battling our way through everyday life and saving the world as we go… I wish!

We are no different than your average human being. My boyfriend often jokes that I have superpowers as I have the ability to pick up on multiple conversations taking place in a restaurant or notice things which he will not. This is due to my senses being heightended.

This can seem cool but imagine being able to hear everything and not zone in on the conversation happening infront of you. Being able to smell everyones perfume and aftershave in the room and seeing lights 100x brighter than a neurotypical. I can confirm that this is not fun. It leaves me exhausted after any social outing. Sensory overload is not something to be envied or joked about as a superpower. It can be debilitating and as I often describe it, ‘painful’.

Myth: Autism is a boy’s condition

I am going to use an article from the National Autistic Society’s website to answer this myth as I think facts are necessary:

“Historically it was thought that women and girls were less likely to be autistic, however recent research has highlighted the challenges in identifying autism in women and girls. It is now recognised from research, clinical practice and anecdotal reports that many autistic females or those who demonstrate the less traditionally obvious traits of autism are not recognised. This can result in misdiagnosis, late diagnosis, or women and girls not being diagnosed at all.

It is often said that the differences that autistic women and girls experience are of a more subtle presentation, or may appear so to others. Some autistic women and girls feel that they are masking their autism to try and hide the fact that they feel different. They may copy behaviour from others around them, and can be exhausted by the constant effort to appear similar to other people, or might be unaware they are ‘masking’ in the first place. This more subtle presentation of autism is also a major barrier to clinicians and other professionals recognising autism and understanding the experiences of autistic women and girls.”

“Five times as many males as females are diagnosed with autism.”

This does not mean that more males are Autistic. This is purely based on diagnosis statistics. The research surrounding Autism in females is increasing everyday and it has become more widely known that Autism is definitely not a male only condition. As stated above, females learn to mimick individuals to fit in, (just as I did) and therefore, are often not diagnosed until later in life when circumstances become more challenging and their self-developed coping methods become harder to adhere to; this is why I was diagnosed.

I can confirm that I am definitely a female and I am definitely Autistic.

Myth: Everyone with autism is pretty much alike

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” seems like a quick and easy quote to use to banish this myth.

Autism is a condition, not a personality. Autistic individuals may have some things in common with one another, but we are still individuals with our own traits and interests.

Myth: Autism only affects children

This seems hard for many to comprehend but, children with Autism grow up to become adults with Autism – unbelievable I know!!

Autism cannot be cured or outgrown. It is a lifelong condition. It may not be as noticable in adults as they have had many years to learn how to fit-in and cope with their Autism. This doesn’t mean that they are not struggling inside.

As a child you may be labelled… ‘that’s Billie-Jade, she has Autism’ …and you can let this become all you are. I am in my 20’s now and I am at peace that I am and always will be Autistic. However, I am also now old enough to not let others pre-conceptions of me define me. I am not Billie-Jade, the girl with Autism… I am simply Billie-Jade.

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