“But you don’t look/act/seem autistic!” I still get this a lot. I have learned to laugh at it, but there seems to be a misconception that I have overcome autism, or that I am less in control of my specific decisions than I really am. These are myths, and the myths persist. Like cockroaches, these false conceptions about autism and autistics continue to give me a headache. They also continue to make a neurotypical person (if you have to ask, you are one) think I am not autistic. I got my diagnosis from the University of California, Los Angeles, where they are serious about autism diagnosis and treatment. I would like to expose the myths that persist about autistic people and my experience with them. How many of these have you fallen for?
Myth 1. Autistic People Are All Alike / Autistic People Are All Like “Rain Man” or (Insert person here)
Saying that autistic people are all like this one person or that one person (NO) is just as false and damaging as saying Hispanic people are all illegal immigrants (NO), or that all men are dogs (NO). People often expect “Rain Man” or Temple Grandin when I mention autism. We are all as different as we can be.
Myth 2. Autistic People Don’t Have Feelings
Personally, I have often run out of the room to cry out of anger, sadness or frustration. I have even experienced happiness too intensely at times. Remember, we are processing things different from the neurotypical mind. For example, I do not watch “Real Housewives of…” because it makes me want to hit somebody out of stress or anger. Also, on empathy: I have often cried or felt sad when someone frowns or cries on the TV or movie screen. How much more empathic can I be?
- Autistic People Don’t Build Relationships
I struggle with this one all the time. I am currently looking for a man to love. I have, in the past, though, had my share of boyfriends, and been praised as a good girlfriend.
- Autistic People Are a Danger to Society
Here are the most common reasons somebody with autism may strike somebody:
- Frustration – usually after another sign, such as crying or shrieking
- Sensory Overload – This is “fight or flight” response
- Stress – Like the above “Real Housewives” scenario I mentioned
There is very little action out of malice. However, autistic people are often victims of hate violence.
- All Autistic People Are Savants
I lost much of my “savanthood” as I became more social, and my speech became more neurotypical, and I became more well-rounded. I used to be a spelling savant, by the way. Does this make me less autistic? Of course not.
- Autistic People Have No Language Skills
There are some autistic people who talk so much, you can’t get a word in edgewise. While it is true some of us remain nonverbal, most of us eventually learn language, but often at a later age than neurotypicals.
- Autistic People Can’t Do Much of Anything
This one just burns my biscuits. What if you could draw upon their special interest? I have seen innovative, creative works come out of autistic people since the diagnosis. This is probably where the savanthood myth comes from. Also, saying “My child would never…” is severely disappointing to the child themselves. Also, I held a job down at In-N-Out Burger for SIX YEARS. Not months, YEARS. I was a respected worker among the people there, too.
- Autistic People Do Not Like To Be Touched
This is one that is usually portrayed in media. Maybe the one who does not like to be touched have a sensory issue. Sensory issues can go the other way, to liking touch a little too much. I love being touched. It has gotten me into trouble in the past. Contact me privately if you want details.
- 9. There is an Autism Epidemic
When you cast a wider net for fish, you catch more fish. The “epidemic” began at about the same time the criteria for autism spectrum disorders was widened to include atypical and female autistics, plus higher people on the spectrum.
Why don’t you tell me more myths that seem to pervade your experience with neurotypicals? Or, if you’re neurotypical, ask me if something about autism is myth or fact? We can come to a greater understanding together.