Thanks to an increased prominence on TV and in the media, as well as campaigns by organisations such as The National Autistic Society, autism is becoming more ‘out there’ and the public at large are becoming more aware of it and what it actually is. Most people have heard of ‘autism’ by now, and, largely because of autistic people and their families shouting about it on social media, it is slowly becoming more accepted. Slowly.
However, there are a shed-load of myths about autism that still abound. If you say ‘autism’ to many people, they will think of ‘Rain Man’, or maybe the little boy in ‘The A Word’, or Sam in ‘Atypical’. And that’s ok – those people are all on the autism spectrum. But, it is a spectrum, and each and every person on it will have different traits, habits, ‘things’ that might indicate their autism.
There are several common traits that people tend to assume all people with autism have and, while many of these are common across the spectrum, Tink is here to disprove some of them for you!
7 Autism Myths – as busted by Tink!
1. Autistic people can’t make eye contact. Oh, really? You might want to let Tink know then, because she gives amazing eye contact. It may not happen straight away if you’re a stranger, but if she knows you, you’ll get to look right into her big, brown eyes and she may even beat you in a staring contest.
2. Autistic people can’t show empathy. Yes, it’s often the case that people on the spectrum lack the theory of mind to put themselves in someone else’s place and know how they might be feeling. However, not in every case. Autistic people can feel empathy. Tink will know that if you are crying, there is something wrong and that you’re sad. She knows what sad is and how it feels. She may even try to comfort you. Or she may just go back to what she was doing…
3. Autistic people don’t understand emotions. Another common myth, Tink certainly knows about happy, sad, angry and surprised. She’s learnt all about emotions from YouTube, and often makes us demonstrate. She’s also able to tell us if she’s happy or sad, so there is certainly some understanding there. And if I ask her what Mommy will be if she throws the iPad on the floor again, she isn’t wrong when she says “cross”.
4. Autistic people don’t have a sense of humour. Ha! This is one myth that Tink definitely disproves! She has a wicked sense of humour. She knows when she’s being funny, and positively feeds off the response from those around her. She’s a great mimic too, and frequently takes the mickey.
5. Autistic people are loners. Of course, some people on the spectrum find socialising hard and prefer their own company. And so do some neurotypicals – I am terribly awkward in company and I much prefer my own space. Others work really hard at learning to socialise and make a great job of it; they learn about how (and why!) conversations work, they may learn to make appropriate eye contact so that the person they are talking to can see they’re interested (in that neurotypical way we have!); they may even – *gasp* – actually enjoy being with other people! And then there are people like Tink. People who are just naturally sociable, and who love to be anywhere there are other people. She’s only briefly shy if it’s a totally new situation, otherwise, she’s the life and soul of the party. She loves a party, actually.
6. Autistic people hate mess. If you know Tink, you’ll know this is a load of rubbish! This one actually surprised Tink’s teacher; she was under the belief, like most people, that those on the spectrum like order, and neatness, and hate mess and disorganisation. And yes, many do. And then, there’s Tink. Tink definitely bucks the trend on this one. Tink loves mess. Thrives in it. She’s always been the same; even when she was smaller, if she saw a completed jigsaw, she’d have to break it up. If she makes or sees a wonderfully-constructed tower of blocks, it has to be knocked down, and sandcastles stand no chance, which is embarrassing and awkward on beaches and public sandpits – other children don’t take too kindly to it. She loves mud, paint, and puddles, preferably on herself, and eats her food better if it’s all mixed together rather than separate items on her plate.
7. Autistic people can’t be loving. Er… ok. Tell that to Tink. She loves a cuddle, is happy to give kisses (and asks for one every night after her bedtime story) and is one of the most loving children I know. So there.
What other common ‘myths’ do you or the autistic people in your life dispel? Let me know in the comments!