Autism Myths Podcast

I thought tonight I’d talk a bit about my Autism and some of the things that people have said to me, either to hurt or just unthinkingly.

 

So is that like being retarded?”

Factually speaking, in many cases Autistic people do not have an intellectual or cognitive disability, and likewise many people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities are not Autistic. It’s a common misconception that we are all mentally disabled and therefore slow or retarded. One customer at a previous workplace used to call me Raymond at my last work place and member of staff also used it, as they had seen the film “Rain Man” and assumed all autistic people are like that. There are some Autistic people who also have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Nevertheless, the word “retarded” is a very hurtful word to use to anyone, because it’s frequently used as an insult to dehumanise people. It’s also used to express hatred for people with disabilities. Please don’t use it.
“You should be very proud of yourself. You seem so normal. I couldn’t tell you’re Autistic.”

This is very frequently said to me and other Autistic people whose autism is less obvious. It’s insulting, because it suggests that, just because the person doesn’t appear to be disabled or fit preconceptions of what Autistic people are supposed to be, they are clearly not Autistic. It also suggests that “normal” is the standard to which anyone should aspire to appear or act and that “normal” should be the ultimate goal for therapies or treatments for autism. This isn’t the case. Instead, the goal is to teach pragmatic coping skills to navigate a world where those with autism are a minority.

This phrase also gives the impression that it isn’t acceptable to act or speak in ways commonly associated with being Autistic, even if those behaviours don’t actually hurt anyone. This is dismissive of a person’s disability and experiences. It’s like saying “But you’re married/have a job/go to college. You couldn’t do that if you were really Autistic.” Yes, not every Autistic person will get married, have a job or go to college. But plenty do. And likewise, not every neurotypical will do those things. . This statement is insulting because it’s ableist. (For those who may not regularly read my blog, ableism is like racism, ageism or sexism, but directed toward people with disabilities.) While not every Autistic person may be able to do all or some of these things, it’s very ableist to assume that no Autistic person can or that anyone who can do those things must be neurotypical.

It’s actually very hard to get a diagnosis of Autism. You have to fit a very specific set of criteria and there is a real reluctance to diagnose unless those criteria are met. So when someone has a formal diagnosis, l8ke me, there really is very little room for doubt.

“I know a kid whose autism is really severe. You don’t seem like him.”

Every Autistic person is different, because autism is a wide-ranging spectrum. It gives a huge range of individual abilities, skills, needs and challenges. It is impossible to know what an Autistic person’s abilities and skills are versus their needs and challenges after just a brief conversation (either in person or in the comments thread of an internet post). What makes Autistic people a group united by a shared diagnosis are the commonalities of all Autistic people. All Autistic people share some of the same core characteristics that define autism and which lead to a formal diagnosis:-

Key differences in neurological functioning, sensory and cognitive processing, and communication abilities that often manifest as disability. Autistic people are Autistic regardless of whether they look, speak or act like another Autistic person you know or know of. There is a great phrase that sums this up in my opinion,

Dr Stephen Shaw said something very true… “Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”.
“Can you have sex?”

Yes, of course autistic people can have sex. Some get married and have children. Some have Autistic children. Other Autistic people might never be taught about sex, for a variety of reasons. But I do wonder how people think that this is an ok question to ask someone. Would they ask them if they had, say, diabetes, which can affect men’s ability to perform.

Autistic people, like all people with developmental disabilities, are at much higher risk for abuse or victimization — sexual or otherwise — than the general population, but that doesn’t mean Autistic people don’t know about or can’t have sex. The issue for me growing up was that as I have difficulty in reading facial cues, body language, and tone of voice I have always found it very difficult to tell if someone was interested in me, I often joked I wouldn’t realise a girl liked me unless she came up and kissed me. The other thing is that I was and am terrified of misreading the signs and making a fool of myself or being accused of being inappropriate. It’s genuinely terrifying.

“Does that mean you’re really good at math/computers/numbers?”

If there’s one thing that’s likely to offend an Autistic person, it’s people seeing them in terms of common stereotypes about autism. A very small minority of Autistic people are also savants. Many have higher than average IQ, and many have average IQ, while still others have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Some of us have dyscalculia or similar learning disabilities I’m personally dyslexic and find some maths difficult, but I love the order maths brings to the universe: one plus one is two, and a week next Thursday it will still be two – it’s a constant. I love fascinating numbers like Balfazar’s Prime – the largest prime number that’s a palindrome.

But some Autistic people, including those who might be good at maths, simply don’t like the subject. And yes, some happen to be excellent with maths and enjoy working or studying in related fields. There are those of us who are relatively computer illiterate, as well as those who thrive in the IT world and community. Most of us may seen like geniuses for another simple reason – the subject being discussed interests us and we have tried to learn everything about it. My passions are Batman, science and random facts: squirrels, speed of light ,York uni, vexilology. I have exceptionally good recall and can recite movies and TV shows, much to annoyance of some people!

“Autism is something kids grow out of”

I have heard this a number of times and it is completely wrong. We don’t grow out of our autism – it’s a life long condition – we just adapt as we grow up, and learn to hide things and get better at adapting. I personally treat it as a science experiment – I give a response and if it causes offence or the wrong reaction I try another response. If it works I try it again a few times and if I get a positive result, I keep that and use it from then on.

Autism is much more common than many people think. There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that’s more than 1 in 1001. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people.
Autism doesn’t just affect children. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults.
Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell if someone is autistic.
While autism is incurable, the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.
34% of children on the autism spectrum say that the worst thing about being at school is being picked on2.
63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them3.
17% of autistic children have been suspended from school; 48% of these had been suspended three or more times; 4% had been expelled from one or more schools4.
Seventy per cent of autistic adults say that they are not getting the help they need from social services. Seventy per cent of autistic adults also told us that with more support they would feel less isolated5.
At least one in three autistic adults are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support6.
Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work7.
Only 10% of autistic adults receive employment support but 53% say they want it8.

 

Around 700,000 people may be autistic, or more than 1 in 100 in the population.

There is no register or exact count kept. Any information about the possible number of autistic people in the community must be based on epidemiological surveys (ie studies of distinct and identifiable populations).

The latest prevalence studies of autism indicate that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be on the autism spectrum. This means that over 695,000 people in the UK may be autistic, an estimate derived from the 1.1% prevalence rate applied to the 2011 UK census

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