My name is Gina Andrews. At the age of four, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and as a result, I spent a good part of my life being subject to all sorts of assumptions about autistic people. Some of these were common misconceptions, and a few of them were just plain odd. Stereotypes are, for the most part, taboo in Western society, because we’re married to the concept of acceptance. Nonetheless, they continue to prevail. In all honesty, I am not a typical Aspie. I currently attend community college, and I have a goal for next semester to start an Autism/Asperger club, which will serve the dual purpose of support for fellow Aspie students and to educate neurotypicals about us–mainly to teach them that we are a mixed bag, just like the rest of humanity. Human beings have a tendency to generalize–they look at one member of a specific group and assume that everyone in that group is doing what they’re doing, which is why there are still assumptions that…
1. People with autism have low intelligence.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~Albert Einstein
Even though this myth is the most obvious one, and it’s fortunately becoming more archaic, I decided that I would get it out of the way. There are hoards of spotlighters with autism. Musician James Durbin and animal scientist/author Temple Grandin are both officially diagnosed. Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and even George Harrison are all proposed to have been autistic. Many individuals with autism have above-average IQs, with some even making it into the genius range. Of course, this leads up to another common myth…
2. All people with autism are geniuses/savants.
“I find that the very things that I get criticized for, which is usually being different and just doing my own thing and just being original, is the very thing that’s making me successful.” ~Shania Twain
Some people might ask, “Why would this be considered a bad stereotype? I mean, people are assuming that you’re exceptionally intelligent or skilled. What’s wrong with that?” Actually, this does have the potential to put undue pressure on a child, because people might have expectations that said child may not be able to meet. Not all people with autism are Cognitive Deficit, but on the other hand, not all of us are geniuses. Aside from that, Savant Syndrome is usually associated with autism, but that and autism are not even two sides of the same token. Savant Syndrome is quite rare. Savants are exceptionally skilled in one aspect, but oftentimes have low IQs. While some cases of Savant Syndrome are linked to autism, not all of them are–in fact, only half of people with Savant Syndrome are diagnosed with autism. Savant Syndrome can also arise from diseases of the central nervous system, or from a brain injury.
3. People with autism don’t like talking to others.
“We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally.” ~Susan Cain
Let it never be said that I don’t like to interact with others. Ask all of my friends, and they’ll unanimously state that once someone gets to know me, it’s almost impossible to get me to shut the hell up. However, I can understand why I might give someone the impression that I don’t like talking to others. Having been bullied as a child, I started high school as very shy and withdrawn, because I feared the emotional pain that sometimes comes with human interaction. After all, how can my heart break if I seal it off from others? In only the past few years, I’ve been forcing myself to come out of my shell. Aside from that, there are certain subjects that I favor more than others. To me, small talk is a necessary evil, the lubrication of every relationship, but also the sour coating of a candy that I must suck away before I can get to the sweet part. I’d rather talk about a recent scientific discovery, a good book that I just read, or last night’s episode of Doctor Who. As far as conversation topics go, there is only one thing I find more irritating than small talk, and it’s called gossip. As self-centered as this sounds, I couldn’t care less about who’s having a baby or who’s marrying whom, whether it’s a celebrity or someone in my own social circle. Oh, wait, a famous person is having a baby? Ladies and gentlemen, childbirth is a truly rare phenomenon! Children aren’t born every day! Wait, did an autistic person just use sarcasm?
4. People with autism can’t understand sarcasm.
“Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile.” ~Mahmoud Darwish
As children, and sometimes as adults, people with autism don’t always get sarcasm, but we can be taught. Some of the most sarcastic people I know are fellow Aspies.
5. Children with autism are naughty, immature brats that need discipline.
“Every child is gifted. They just unwrap their packages at different times.” ~Anonymous
Of all these myths, this one was the most damaging to me. Growing up, I was constantly chastised for being a “bad” kid. I badly wanted to be a good girl, and my young spirit was shattered because I was constantly hearing, “Quit acting like a baby.” “God, you’re such a brat.” “Why can’t you just behave yourself and stop being so naughty?” Here’s the thing: a child needs to be taught how to behave. Talking down on them just isn’t going to work, and will do more harm than good.
I want the world to know that not all people with autism are the same. Stay tuned for a special winter post!