I have noticed that there are many stereotypes associated with autism, and I intend to knock every one of them down every single hour of my life if I have to. I have a list of these stereotypes, along with a response on each one of them. These stereotypes are often applied to characters who are not canonically autistic (like Sherlock Holmes 2010 and Sheldon Cooper), so they get the diagnosis, too.
Here are several stereotypes:
Stereotype: Autism is a White Person’s Disease
Almost every portrayal of autism is marred by the fact that it absolutely HAS to be portrayed by the people in power. As a result, most of them are white. This might lead most people to believe that autism is simply a consequence of something in white civilization. As a matter of fact, the only non-white portrayal of autism I knew of until I did a Wikipedia Search were of Billy Cranston, of the Power Rangers movie, and Isidore Latham of Chicago Med, of a Very Special character arc.
Stereotype: Autism is Male Only
This is shown in the disparity of male-to-female portrayals of autism. Of the 67 listed Film Characters listed as autistic, only 12 are female. Most people think that, due to the mostly male portrayals of autism, especially in more popular film and television shows, that autism is more male. As a matter of fact, there are women I have spoken with online who are still awaiting a paper diagnosis simply because they are female!
Stereotype: Autism is Rain Man
Now, Rain Man was a groundbreaking movie in its time. It brought awareness to a little-known diagnosis back in 1988. But we have moved beyond Rain Man. Autism diagnoses are being given out at a proper rate. People do not have to meet all the criteria of autism in order to get a diagnosis…or do they? More on that later.
Stereotype: Autism is Savant Syndrome
Now, this might be wishful thinking on the part of the parents, who want their children to be something more than the tragedy that people make difference out to be, but most autistic people I know have no savanthood. As a matter of fact, the most recent television portrayal, Freddie Highmore’s The Good Doctor, had to differentiate between autism and savant syndrome, to literally spell it out and drop a house on the viewing audience. This stereotype is common among the non-official portrayals, as seen in the Progenitors Section.
Stereotype: Autism is a Lack of Empathy
How many times do I have to tell people this? Just because they express something differently does not mean they have something more or less!!! Autistic people express themselves quite differently from others. It is a hallmark of the condition. Just because we aren’t born with a capacity to “read between the lines” when someone is talking, does not mean we cannot feel what others feel. If you want us to read between the lines, teach us!
Stereotype: Autistic People are Cold and Uncaring
Again, another stereotype that relies heavily on the fact that some things must be taught. If a person must be taught to be warm, why not see and teach them? (In the case of Rick Sanchez, I think he drinks because he cares so much for most members of his family.) This stereotype also goes to the parents, and in my own case, I can tell you it is wrong. My mother is one of the warmest people you will ever meet. She taught me how to be warm and expressive.
Stereotype: Autistic People Can’t Communicate
This is a folly on the part of most neurotypical people. Just because we communicate differently, does not mean we aren’t communicating. Far from it. The tugging of the autistic person on your shoulder? Communication. The stimming? Communcation they are uncomfortable. The refusal to go into a certain place? Communication. The crying? Communcation. The meltdown? Communcation. We are communicating; YOU ARE NOT LISTENING.
Stereotype: Autistic People Are Violent
This goes back to the meltdown that is imminent when a person is overstimulated. This can easily be avoided by simply asking the autistic person, “Are you okay? Do you need to go somewhere?” Or similar questions. They are simply trying to escape.
Stereotype: Autistic People are Math Geniuses
The stereotype that does not ring true with me at all. I am NOT a math genius. I need a calculator for the simplest of math problems. This is one I fell victim to my entire life. I thought I was stupid because I was not a human calculator. This also helped me realize that there are stereotypes in media portayals of autism.
Stereotype: Autistic People Have Marilu Henner Memories
Of WHAT, exactly? Just because we remember different things about events and people does not mean we remember everything. If I had a Marilu Henner Memory, I would be able to use it!
Stereotype: Autistic People Have No Sense of Humor
This is also something that can be taught. Get off your high horses and do it, people! I learned humor through my family, and I can wield it expertly.
Stereotype: Autistic People Can Melt Down at the Drop of a Hat
Again, not true. There are usually signs that the person is about to melt down. Are they stimming? Do they look uncomfortable? Have you asked them if they are okay? As a matter of fact, there is this really radical, out-there method of finding out if autistic person is okay. It goes like this:
YOU: “Are you okay? Do you need help?”
Most of us are verbal and will answer truthfully.
Now that I’ve hopefully cleared up some misconceptions about autism, are there any more I need to clear up? Tell me.