Thursday, April 8, 2010

5 Common Myths about the Autism Spectrum

Many myths abound about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Unfortunately, for those unfamiliar with ASDs, it can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. Here are five common myths and the truths behind them.

Myth 1: People on the autism spectrum have no emotions

Fact: This myth is likely the result of many people on the autism spectrum expressing their emotions in atypical manners. Both children and adults on the spectrum experience the same range of emotions and depth of feeling as neurotypicals (people without an ASD). Autistics may laugh when others cry; they may cry when others are happy; they may show no outward sign of emotion, but the feelings are still there. Assuming they have no emotions is very hurtful to an autistic.

Myth 2: People on the autism spectrum are unaware of their surroundings

Fact: Just because an autistic is looking at the floor rather than the people around him doesn’t mean he is unaware of what is going on. Rather, he’s probably focusing on the conversation around him and absorbing every word. Many people on the autism spectrum have few or no filters when it comes to the information they take in. If they were to look at the people involved in a conversation while trying to listen to it, they would likely become distracted by the way a person’s mouth moves, the clothes people are wearing, hairstyles, etc. and miss every word spoken. By focusing on something bland, like the floor, or closing their eyes, it enables them to focus better on the conversation. You just might be surprised by what they have to add to the discussion.

Myth 3: People on the autism spectrum are either mentally handicapped or geniuses

Fact: In reality, people on the autism spectrum have the same range of IQs and in the same ratio as those not on the spectrum. You will find autistics with high IQs and those with low IQs, but the majority will fall somewhere in between.

Myth 4: People on the autism spectrum are lonely

Fact: While this may be true for some, not all autistics crave being the center of attention and surrounded by people most of the time. Many people on the autism spectrum like to be alone. They find it relaxing to not have to try to “fit in” or understand what the people around them might be thinking. It gives them the opportunity to let their minds wander and do what they enjoy. Most people think a solitary life would be torture, but many autistics enjoy it.

Myth 5: People on the autism spectrum cannot work

Fact: Many autistics can and do work. They may not function well in a highly social position, like a cashier at the local supermarket, but they are perfectly capable of working in the right environment. Autistics can be successful in a multitude of jobs, from working in a call center to being a research scientist. Each individual has his own unique abilities and interests which may lend themselves to a long-term career. Others work at whatever job is available that they can handle while looking for a career that involves their interests.

One of the worst things a person can do is to set limitations for people on the autism spectrum. Given a chance, autistics tend to surprise people with their abilities. Yes, autistics are different, but differences are what make the world the wonderful and diverse place it is.

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