If you’ve been reading my column, you have figured out by now that I am autistic. I like things to run on a strict schedule, I have certain sensory issues, and I tend to perseverate on specific subjects from time to time. I will admit I have had the occasional meltdown. I am not the center of attention at a party.
The majority of these characteristics are true of numerous people on the spectrum. We do have a lot in common. We are also individuals. This means we don’t all act exactly the same all the time. Just as not every little girl loves the color pink, we autistics have different needs, desires and different personalities.
I tend to be pretty open about how the autism spectrum impacts my family. I am not shy and reserved when it comes to standing up for the rights of those with disabilities. I will happily educate anyone who asks me anything about autism. Autism is part of me and my family.
That said, I do get tired of the generalizations people make about autistic characteristics, so I want to clear up a few misconceptions.
Not every person with autism is a savant.
I will say it again, we are not all savants! Yes, people have asked me if I could tell them how many matches were thrown on the floor (Rain Man movie reference). Yes, Rain man was a real person named Kim Peek. He was a remarkably brilliant savant. Kim Peek was not on the autism spectrum.
Please do not ask autistic individuals if they can tell you what day of the week you were born, recite movies verbatim, or learn to speak a foreign language in a few days. While we all have our own unique talents and gifts, we are not all savants. It is offensive to even ask someone if they are a savant.
Don’t assume we are all the same. We are not trained animals. If you do encounter those with savant abilities, treat them with respect, not like sideshow oddities.
Many autistics have jobs, go to college, and get married.
Some of us even have our own children. Once a receptionist at my doctor’s office marveled that she knew a man on the spectrum with a “real” job and a family. I regret now that at that moment I did not let her know that I was one of those autistic individuals with a job and a family. And, I’m doing just fine, thanks!
We can find love and life partners.
Dating can definitely be challenging, but it is possible. We autistics have emotions! It is a common misconception that we are void of all emotions. We are often portrayed as robots with little emotion. Someone once asked me if I am able to cry. Of course, I can cry! And laugh, love and have the same range of emotions as any neurotypical person does. But what’s important to know is that we experience emotions in a different way. We may laugh at inappropriate times or cry at something random, but we still have feelings. We love our families, children and friends.
It is time to celebrate and educate the world about autism.
Autistic individuals can do anything they want to do. Yes, autism is a spectrum disorder. That means we all function differently. Aren’t typical people also vastly different from one another? Do not be afraid to tell people about autism. Do not shy away from teaching those around you and do not let them assume we are all the same.
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