Recently we asked to hear the voice of our blog readers! In particular we want to from individuals diagnosed with autism or other disabilities, along with their parents and siblings for a guest blog.The following blog post is from a 46-year old woman diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism has been referred to in the past as Classic Autism while the milder forms of Autism were referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified) and High-Functioning Autism. As of 2013, Autism has no distinctions, you’re either Autistic or you’re not. An Autistic person is now said to have Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“Autism” of Autism Spectrum Disorder is really the only word of the diagnosis that is commonly known. When the problem begins with the correct name not being known… it doesn’t bode well for awareness of Autism in general.
If you ask random people who have at least heard of Autism what comes to mind when the word Autism is mentioned you’ll likely hear common themes. Those include the following: involving boys, tantrums or being spoiled, possibly a person that has to be taken care of/managed/is dependent or even is difficult to manage and/or a burden. For some, Autism may mean a person that is not just difficult but violent. For others, when they think of Autism they may think of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.
For most in the Autism community (parents, teachers, individuals with Autism, siblings, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc.) more familiar with Autism than the average person these stubborn stereotypes make it clear that Autism Awareness is vital and necessary.
One misconception is that Autism is something new. However, “Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital first used Autism in its modern sense… in 1946” (Wikipedia). Autism in History: Hugh Blair of Borgue is a book that details the life of a man born in 1708 that was likely Autistic. Autism is not new.
Stereotypes and some other misconceptions and myths:
- The ratio of males and females with Autism is 4:1
There are four times as many males DIAGNOSED with autism. A significant difference. The model used to diagnose Autism has been the male model but in recent years professionals have started to realize that females may present their symptoms differently, in a way that is less likely to be detected.
- Autistics don’t want or are unable to have relationships, they are unable or unwilling to be social
Not every single Autistic wants a relationship many can and do, they just need the relationship on their terms. It’s not unusual for a group of Autistics to like to get together just to talk, sometimes getting together to go see a movie, etc.
- Autism is caused by poor parenting, “refrigerator mothers”, vaccines, circumcision, etc.
There is no known cause of Autism, just a great deal of grasping at straws.
- Non-verbal Autistics or those with limited verbal communication are intellectually disabled
Within the last 10-20 years and the advent of computers, those that are not verbal or have limited verbal capability have been found to be quite communicative if given a computer, if given the chance to type or write their thoughts.
- Autistics are cold, have no feelings
Autistics tend to be easily overwhelmed by the things going on around them. They even pick up on negative “vibes”. This can be overwhelming leading to them being stunned, almost numb giving the impression of being cold, uncaring, etc. They may express themselves in different ways.
- Autistics are savants
A very small percentage are.
- Autistics are violent
Some are, most are not. And for some of those prone to violence, that violence may stem from frustration which they may be able to be taught to manage.
- Autistics are kids
Some are, many are not, many are just now being diagnosed while many go undiagnosed. There are diagnosed kids who turn into diagnosed adults that may still need services, but those services don’t exist for adults.
- Autistics are mentally retarded.
Many are average or above average intelligence.
- Autistics are just spoiled kids, brats
Autism DOES exist, it’s not another way to referred to a spoiled child. This is simply the belief of uninformed people.
- Autistics are humorless
Nope, humor abounds among Autistics, it just may not be your brand of humor (not what you think is funny) and they may feel some humor is out of bounds.
- Autism is an epidemic
It’s not an epidemic it’s just that autism continues to be better defined and diagnosed. Autism Awareness will help with this.
- Autistics don’t like to be touched
Some don’t. Others do but on their own terms, they may prefer to be the one to initiate the hug rather than have the hug forced on them because they’re supposed to like it.
Many people have heard of Autism and the numbers of those diagnosed are growing. However, inaccurate information is still common. Even within the Autism community itself there is misinformation. I heard an adult woman on the Wrong Planet (a forum for Autistics) told she couldn’t be Autistic by a professional (psychiatrist) because she was a female. I was told I couldn’t be Autistic by a Psychiatrist that was head of his department because he considered me too well spoken.
Often what happens is that the Autistic person or people one comes into contact with represent Autism in it’s entirety to that person. For example, a person that is used to dealing with their son who is 10 and non-verbal may meet me, a 46 year old Autistic female that is “well spoken” and believe that I am not Autistic because I don’t fit their view of what is Autism. This is common. Pyschiatrist, psychologist, teachers, etc. may be the same way i.e. have a narrower view of what Autism is than they should.
That’s where the word Spectrum comes in, the most neglected word in Autism Spectrum Disorder.
There is a saying having to do with Autism that not nearly enough know and take to heart. It’s one of my favorites: If you’ve met one Autistic person you’ve met one Autistic person. As you learn and discard the myths, misconceptions and stereotypes of Autism you may have believed you will see how varied are Autistics and be able to share that with others increasing Autism awareness. Autism is probably the opposite of One Size Fits All.
What is known about Autism continues to evolve and getting that information out to not only professionals but parents, friends and the individuals with Autism is vitally necessary to help with understanding, treatment, acceptance. It’s an ongoing process and endeavor.
Autism is referred to as a disorder, a problem to be solved when in reality so many of the “problems” would be mitigated by acceptance/tolerance. I don’t think that is a possibility now but as Autism Awareness grows my hope is that it will become a reality.