Thursday, April 22, 2010

5 More Common Myths about the Autism Spectrum

In a previous post, I listed five common myths about people on the autism spectrum. Here, I’ll discuss five more common myths and their factual counterparts.

Myth 1: People on the autism spectrum cannot get married and raise a family

Fact: Many autistics are happily married and parents. While it may be more difficult for a person on the autism spectrum to maintain relationships and deal with the stress of raising children, there is no reason to believe they are incapable of living a normal, happy life.

Myth 2: People on the autism spectrum have excellent memories

Fact: This is a common misconception likely based on the seemingly endless streams of trivia some autistics can recite. However, not all autistics have the profound memorization skills often attributed to them. Some have above average memories, some have average memories, and some have memories that resemble a sieve: the information goes in and then goes back out just as quickly.

Myth 3: People on the autism spectrum are unhappy and miserable

Fact: While many autistics do suffer from depression, it is usually not caused by the autism itself. Instead, the depression comes as a result of the treatment of those around them and society as a whole, who look at the diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder and immediately make assumptions about the persons abilities, or lack thereof, based solely on preconceived misconceptions. Placing limitations on an autistic simply because he is autistic is one of the worst things you can do. No one likes to hear he can’t do something because of something that makes him different; that’s what led to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. People on the autism spectrum who are allowed to be themselves, even if that self isn’t “normal,” tend to be much happier and more well-adjusted than autistics who are forced to conform or held back because of their autism.

Myth 4: People on the autism spectrum want to be cured

Fact: Although many people may call for a cure for autism, few of them are on the spectrum themselves. The majority of autistics are against a cure because they don’t feel they should be cured of who they are. Autism isn’t a disease; it is a way of life. To cure autism is to take away what makes the autistic who she is. Some have equated curing autism with genocide. In a way, that is just what it is, for autism cannot be separated from the autistic and to eradicate autism would eradicate one segment of society. Autism doesn’t need to be cured, it needs to be accepted and autistics allowed to be themselves without fear.

Myth 5: People on the autism spectrum are all savants

Fact: It is true that some autistics have special abilities, but there are no more savants on the autism spectrum than there are in any other group of people. Just like neurotypicals (people not on the autism spectrum), autistics have a range of talents, abilities, and deficits. To believe that every autistic must be an expert at something is to believe a lie. Most autistics are average at a variety of things, just like the rest of society. They may work to develop their talents and become impressive musicians or mathematicians, but the majority aren’t prodigies. They are just people who are good at some things and not so good at others.

The important thing to remember about people on the autism spectrum is that they are people who happen to be different. They aren’t a group to be pitied or looked down upon. Most of them would gladly answer the questions of anyone truly interested in learning about the realities of autism. Above all, treat autistics as you would anyone else and allow for the differences that are sure to make themselves known.

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