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World Autism Awareness Day was April 2. But what does it mean to be “aware”? Being aware is more than realizing that autism exists. It’s more about needing to be aware that we need to make more of an effort to understand and accept.
In many ways, Autism is a ‘high profile’ neuro condition. Actors get respect for playing characters with autism and authors are applauded for writing in characters with autism. Not long ago, autism was relatively unknown but these days it gets quite a bit of screen time. However, like many well-recognized things, people don’t take the time to fully understand it.
Myths about People with Autism
Myth 1: They don’t experience empathy.
This is false. People with autism experience compassion, and care for others very deeply. Autism can even offer people a clarity which means that they can be the most socially conscious and principled individuals. The problem lies in their struggle to express these feelings in their everyday interactions.
For most, their autism makes it hard for them to pick up on subtle social signals. Often they’ll miss facial expressions, the tone of voice, or body language — so even though they care deeply what your feelings are, they can’t respond appropriately because they can’t detect what you’re feeling.
Myth 2: They are anti-social.
Most people with autism want friends! Just like everybody else, there a few individuals who are most happy to be alone, but the bulk of people want friends and to spend time with them.
For people with autism, social experiences are a bit more challenging. This isn’t surprising — as autism affects their communication and social interaction skills. They might have difficulty finding friendships because they are afraid of offending people (yet another reason supporting the fact that people with autism do experience empathy — most are quite averse to upsetting people). As a result of tip-toeing around people, they may appear shy. And, since they struggle with small-talk, they can come across as aloof. This is just on the surface. If you take the time to get to know and understand them, you will find that many (just like everybody else) are friendly and extremely loyal.
Myth 3: Romance isn’t in their cards.
Dating is hard for EVERYBODY. It’s full of unspoken rules, and expectations. While the average Joe fumbles through with relative success, a person with autism can find it extremely challenging. Some people with autism also have trouble with physical contact — which is a drawback and can make finding the right person more difficult than for a neurotypical person.
Though navigating a romantic relationship is extra hard for a person with autism, it doesn’t mean they can’t feel love or aren’t loveable. They have to work at their relationships just like everyone else. With commitment and affection, people with autism can have fulfilling and satisfying romantic relationships.
Myth 4: They aren’t smart.
Autism affects development, not intellect. Autism can cause sensory issues, affect communication, or cause a person to be set in their habits — none of these affect intelligence. Autism is a spectrum, so no two cases are alike so people with varying levels of intellect can be on the spectrum.
What can also happen with people on the spectrum is that they can have what’s called an ‘uneven educational profile’. This just means that they might be really good in one area, and really struggle in another. Since we expect a person with a high IQ to perform well across the board, it’s easy to assign a low level of intelligence to someone we see struggling. There can be extenuating circumstances which affect a person with autisms’ intellect, but this can be said of any group of people. There is no reason to assume an autistic person isn’t smart.
Myth 5: They’re all boys.
Currently, 4x as many boys are diagnosed than girls. But, girls present their symptoms differently, and as a result, there is some debate that they are under-diagnosed.
Myth 6: They can be ‘cured’.
Autism is just a different way of being. Yes, some people with autism need help so that their life isn’t made harder. But is it really something we need to cure? Many people with — and without — autism argue that the condition itself isn’t really a bad thing. It’s a difference, and that difference is as much an opportunity to learn from each other as it is a problem.
Presently, Autism is something that affects a person from birth to death. Research is currently unable to state the exact cause. There are programs and people who can help people with autism learn skills they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, but there is no ‘cure’.
For all their challenges, people with autism have many strengths. They have much they can contribute and excel at. Autism is a spectrum so no two people will present the exact same symptoms, or excel at the same things. So to truly begin to understand autism, talk to an autistic person! Listen to their story. It’s one thing to learn from the experts, but you’ll learn so much more from the stories and lives of people with autism.