Updated: Apr 8
I am writing this article today to continue to raise awareness of autism in the community. My aim is to debunk the most common myths society has around autism, along with providing further education around this incredibly complex condition and why we should all be celebrating autism! #AutismAwarenessWeek #AutismAwareness
Myth Number 1: Autism is a ‘catch phrase’, not a real disability
NOPE, autism is most certainly a ‘thing.’ Autism is a condition recognised by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the International Classification of Functioning, disability and health (ICF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), well I could continue to go on here but you get the idea. Autism is most certainly a very real condition that presents differently in each individual. The most common traits of autism are difficulties with social interaction, sensory deprivation (so over or under stimulated reactions through the senses) and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour or interests (including the strong preference for routine).
Myth Number 2: Meltdowns are temper tantrums
NOPE, an autistic meltdown is not a calculated reaction to punishment or a deliberate disobedience. Firstly, for those unsure what I mean by the term meltdown, this is an event where an autistic person appears to be having what you might associate with a young child having a tantrum. As you can imagine, this can become quite upsetting, especially when you are not two years old and Mum or Dad are not there to support you. Meltdowns are beyond the control of the autistic person. Please read that sentence again. The triggers for meltdowns vary from individual to individual and can be caused by a variety of situations. One reason for meltdowns are too many changes to routine. You see, autistic individuals are able to self-regulate when they know what is going to happen when and what the process involved is. When things change suddenly, for example a child’s regular teacher is away without warning, this can cause a meltdown. Another reason is sensory overload. This is why you will see many autistic people wearing headphones (to block out noise), or sunglasses inside (to filter light). Busy, loud events can be a nightmare for many autistic people.
Myth Number 3: Autistic people don’t feel emotion
Remember when I said earlier, that autistic people have difficulties with social interaction? Autistic people have some of the kindest, most sensitive hearts on the planet. They just sometimes have trouble expressing these emotions as you or I may do. For example, it is very common for autistic children to witness an injustice at school with apparent nonchalance, only to divulge the entire event, emotional outpouring and all, later that evening at home. Autistic people very much feel emotion, they just process it very differently to the general community. If you are lucky enough to be close to an autistic person, you know personally how emotional and empathetic they can be, you just need to learn how to read them.
Myth Number 4: Vaccines cause autism
It kills me just to write such nonsense down, but you’d be amazed how many people still believe this myth and ask me about it. In the late 90’s a scientist produced evidence that autism was caused by a vaccine. These findings became world news and his results the new wisdom on the subject. Never mind that his research was completely debunked and discredited through his severe misconduct, the mud had stuck. Countless research has proven this myth entirely unfounded since, and continues to do so. We still don’t know what causes autism, in fact current research indicates a multitude of potential reasons. But we certainly know that it is not vaccines.
Myth Number 5: Autistic people are geniuses
Thanks to Sheldon and Rainman, many autistic people are expected to calculate advanced mathematical equations on cue, or know pi to the 100th decimal place. What these fictional characters do highlight, is that the autistic brain is wired very differently. This links to the autistic trait of repetitive behaviours or interests. Autistic people have the ability to hyper-focus on a task, where many of us would give up or move on. This is why you should surround yourself with autistic specialists in your life. Imagine an autistic accountant who wouldn’t miss a single cent? My insurance broker is autistic and there is not a thing he doesn’t know about every policy and document relating to insurance. Imagine an inclusive employment environment where every person with autism worked in a field around their special interest? We’d have the cleanest cars, the most efficient banks, the most organised shelves and not to mention the future innovations.
The greatest people I know celebrate autism and/or are autistic themselves. My world is a bright and exciting place because of the autistic community and yours is too! Their inventions and discoveries have changed the world and will continue to do so. But more importantly, when we learn to adapt to their needs, we are making the world a better place for everyone.
Picture: AASQA CoderDojo Ninjas with family, Michelle and Annie Fogarty, supporter of all things autism!
Autism IS awesome!