Today is officially ‘Autism Awareness Day’. A single day where people pay the most attention to those living with autism. Some merely aknowledge it, others don’t know it exists and some aknowledge it but don’t understand enough about it to really care. For those who do care, it can be a little frustrating. Autism is something which deserves to be acknowledged and accepted all of the time, not just during one ‘special’ day of the year.
In the UK, 700 000 people live with Autism. Thats 1 in every 68 families, resulting in it affecting daily family life for 2.8 million. If you were to include extended family, friends, teachers and external proffessionals, I think that in some way or another, we all know people with autism and we must all be aware of what makes them unique.
A common misconception is that someone who is autistic is naughty, rude or disrespectful. This is definitely not an accurate statement. Autistic children in particular are misunderstood. They are given labels and judged before being given a chance. I have been speaking to Maddie, who understands exactly what it’s like to be misjudged. She has written a detailed piece outlining myths relating to autism.
‘It is impossible for me to explain what it’s like to be autistic – mainly because I’ve never not been autistic, so I have no idea what the actual differences are! There’s a lot of misleading information and common misconceptions about autism out there about autistic people, especially autistic women so here are some myth busting facts about autism! All of these are based on things that people have actually said to me and my autistic friends.
Myth: Autistic people are all introverts.This is a common misconception – even in the autistic community! A lot of autistic people are introverted, but an equal number of us are extroverted and thrive off of social interaction. I love being around people, when I can I sign up to as many events as possible. This myth is actually harmful to autistics as we can get left out of important social interactions due to our diagnosis, especially those of us who are diagnosed as children. Of course it’s important for me to rest and recharge after social interaction, and I might get a little bit overwhelmed in certain situations, but I’ve always been extroverted and most likely always will be!
Myth: Autistic people don’t have a sense of humour.Some autistic people have a hard time understanding jokes that aren’t literal, but equally some of us don’t struggle with that at all! Every autistic person I know has a great sense of humour. I’m often told that I’m really funny, and I think that being autistic plays a part in that. A lot of modern humour has its roots in observational comedy, where someone takes an ordinary social convention and describes it in a funny way to make the audience realise how absurd it is. A lot of social situations and things people do seem a bit weird to me, so I do this without even thinking about it! Some of my jokes are a bit unconventional, but they get big laughs without me even trying!
Myth: Autistic people don’t understand sarcasm. As I’ve said, some autistic people have a hard time understanding things that aren’t literal, but a lot of us love sarcasm! I think this misconception is rooted in the stereotypical Sheldon Cooper style portrayal of autistic people. I’m incredibly sarcastic, probably more so than my neurotypical peers.
Myth: Autistic people don’t have friends.This simply isn’t true. Autistic people might engage in friendships in a different way to other people, but that doesn’t mean we’re social pariahs! Sometimes autistic people have a bit of a hard time understanding social conventions, but most of us are fiercely loyal to our friends and form strong bonds with people. Some of us do struggle a little bit with maintaining friendships – mainly down to the level of communication needed to do this effectively, but we really do want to be friends with you!
Myth: Autistic people don’t have emotions.This misconception is a common one, and is incredibly damaging. Autistic people are often deeply empathetic people, and feel emotions very strongly. However there are a few different things that mean we don’t express these emotions in ways that people would expect. These are:
- Alexithymia – this is something that affects people’s ability to interpret and understand the emotions that they or someone else is feeling. This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel emotions, it just means that we have a bit of a hard time recognising what they are and might not be able to describe our feelings properly.
- Flat affect – this is something that impacts expression of emotions and vocal tone. Some people don’t naturally change their facial expressions to suit their emotions, and might not automatically change their tone of voice.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel emotions or empathy, it just means that we communicate it in different ways to some people!
Myth: Girls aren’t autistic.This is pretty commonly known to be a lie, but every so often I’ll mention being autistic in conversation and somebody will say “but you’re a girl”. Autistic women and girls present differently to men and boys, we typically learn to mask our symptoms and behave like people who aren’t autistic a lot earlier on. A lot of autism research has been done about young boys, which is why autistic women aren’t being represented in the media as much as we should be! Luckily we are seeing more and more openly autistic women like Greta Thunberg in the public eye, so hopefully this way of thinking will be completely eradicated soon.
Myth: Autistic people are all good at maths/science/technology.I’m shockingly awful with technology, and science was one of my least favourite classes in school. Some autistic people love technology and science and coding, because there tends to be a right and wrong answer to the questions posed by these subjects, but an equal number of us aren’t a big fan. We’re not all savants!
Myth: Autistic people can’t fall in love. I’ve never been in love, so I can’t vouch for this one personally. However, a lot of my autistic friends are in happy relationships, in marriages and in love with their partners. The way we express our affection might be a little different, but yes we can fall in love.
Myth: Autistic people are bad communicators. Autistic people communicate a little differently to non autistic people, but that doesn’t make us bad communicators. Often we’re really effective communicators because we tend to say exactly what we mean. We might not have the same non verbal communication skills as neurotypical people, but we are generally honest and incredibly logical problem solvers.
Myth: Autistic people want to be cured.Most of us know by now that autism isn’t “caused” by vaccines, and there isn’t a cure for autism – nor is there a need for one! Some companies profit off of parent’s worries for their children by claiming that drinking bleach cures autism, or certain harmful therapies like ABA therapy can stop people from being autistic, but this simply isn’t true. If you ask most autistic people, we will say that we don’t want to be cured. Autism makes up the foundation of who I am, it is the building blocks on which I am built and I wouldn’t change that for anything.’
Please be sure to take a look at Maddie’s blog. She really is a super amazing human and a great friend! https://mentallymadeleine.blogspot.com
Autism can be represented via the media and online platforms using a variety of different organisations, images and logos. It is great that these different methods of awareness exist, but do they truly represent autism in the best way? Lots of people argue against the use of jigsaw pieces and ‘light it up blue’ as it doesnt put out the right message.
‘Puzzle pieces make it seem like we are broken, missing something or that we need to be fixed. There is nothing wrong with us. We are just different; not bad or wrong or broken.’ – Esmée
‘Light It Up Blue is a thing from the most toxic organisation ever. They speak over us. They are funding huge projects for ‘cures’ (again we are not sick or broken and even if it was possible, we wouldn’t want a cure!?). They dehumanise autistic people as if we were animals!’- Esmée
Instead of Autism Awareness, the term Autism Acceptance is now more favourably used. It is represented by a colourful infinity sign, representing endless possibilities and untapped potential. We all contribute as a whole and the colours represent a neurodiverse population.
Someone may learn differently, have strengths in one particular focus or take extra time to process, but it does not mean they deserve to be treated like an alien. Having autism is not a negative thing, not something that defines a person to be rude or incapable. The sooner it is accepted by everyone, everyday, the sooner life becomes easier for these people. In a world full of uncertainty, be kind.