Where to start? These are the 5 common autism myths and misperceptions I hear regularly:
Autism Myth 1: You can’t be autistic you are too social.
Yes I can be, I am able to enjoy others company as many autistics can. We can enjoy social occasions like parties and cinema trips.
I love concerts and the theatre.
That does not mean however that I do not risk sensory overload in those places which happens frequently.
It does not mean that I do not need to rest for up to eight hours after intense social reaction, I do.
Autistics can be social.
When I was little I can remember wanting friends, I would try to see what they liked and find a common bond. I always wanted a best friend.
I would lose friends by blurting and having no social boundaries at all, it took me a long time to learn not to tell people everything someone had told me in confidence.
That’s an art to be learned.
There are different ways to be social it must be stressed.
Some autistics prefer to interact with others online or on the phone but that is still socialising just in a different way.
Autism Myth 2: There’s no way your child is autistic, he makes eye contact.
Yes some of us can also make eye contact if we have trained ourselves to do so.
I myself can, I use it to show the other person I am listening to them as neurotypicals seem to need that reassurance of eye contact.
I do this by focusing on the person’s nose.
My elder son describes making eye contact as a feeling of having knives thrown at him.
I feel it as a pressure on my eyes, as if they are being pressed on. After an extended conversation it’s not uncommon for me to feel nauseated.
My younger son makes what is called ‘ inappropriate eye contact’ as he will stare intently into your eyes, he will drag you by your chin to make sure you are listening to him.
Making eye contact should not be forced as to some of us it can be physically painful.
As was said to me by a wise person, you do not have to look at a radio to listen to it.
Eye contact is for the other persons comfort, not your own.
Autism Myth 3: Meltdowns are bad or intentionally willful behaviours.
A meltdown is a feeling of complete loss of control.
It swamps you in its entirety and activates the flight or fight mode.
Many autistics bolt in a meltdown, some will strike out at any thing they perceive to be a threat.
We may also unintentionally take out our frustration on those nearest to us as we subconsciously feel safe with them.
That’s why your child may have more meltdowns in your presence than in front of others.
They feel safe with you.
It also adequately explains why many autistic children melt down at home and not at school.
Like a pressure cooker, we hold in all frustrations, injustices and slights real or imagined then let rip when we get home to a safe environment.
We cannot control a meltdown, though many adult autistics were heavily disciplined with physical force when they were children so as not to display them.
This has an extremely detrimental effect, we are shown that to express anger or frustration is a bad thing. To be upset or distraught is bad.
Why? Because it makes others feel uncomfortable.
Not unlike the line in the popular Disney film Frozen: “Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show,” as told to the character Elsa by her father.
I believe this is why so many children autistic or neurotypical and indeed adults relate and enjoy the song ‘ Let it go’ so much.
The character Elsa is finally able to be herself.
Also worth mentioning is a meltdown does not have to be violent or angry, it can be implosive and completely soul destroying—a total devastation of confidence complete with tears and abject desolation with the strong belief that we are worthless and nothing will ever be right again. This can be triggered by something as seemingly minor as being unable to find my purse!
Autism Myth 4: But you seem so ‘ switched on’ are you certain you are autistic?
Yes I am and that quite frankly is extremely insulting to myself and others.
We are always switched on and fully aware of EVERTYHING around us, whether we are verbal or not and whether we make eye contact or not.
Be aware that when you are in a paediatrician’s office or sitting in front of family in a restaurant with an adult autistic we are aware of all that is said.
We also have excellent memories.
Respect us as you would anyone, do not patronise us.
If there seems to be a lack of understanding it may be:
- We choose not to listen to you as we are finding you’re requests hard to follow or physically/ mentally cannot follow as we are distracted by internal/ external sensory issues.
- We don’t agree with you and we do not wish to participate or acknowledge you.
- There are accompanying learning difficulties or processing problems holding us back.
Autism Myth 5: So what’s you’re special talent?
I’ll make this one short and sweet, I don’t have one.
Not all autistics have savant skills.
Our special talent is excelling in a world that is in short, alien to us.
It’s loud, can be unfriendly and overly bright.
People can be rude and schools and work places can be hostile and understanding social cues and body language can be challenging.
Our special talent?