By Megan Watson
“The most difficult part is not trying to fit them into our world,
but trying to understand theirs.” -unknown
Autism. When people hear this word, a certain image may come about; that of a person with social difficulties who keeps to themselves yet has an above average intelligence. They get categorized into a certain group and sometimes it is forgotten that they are their own individual person or that they too are unique. Many people turn myths into fact, preventing awareness. October is Autism Awareness Month and to mark that, it’s time to acknowledge some of the most common myths.
Myth: All people with autism are non-social and prefer isolation or only a few close people to interact with.
Although some people with autism do have this characteristic, it is not a defining feature. An autism diagnosis only means that the person has social difficulties. They can either be overly social (e.g., saying “hi” to everyone who walks by, not differentiating between strangers and friends/family, or touching others to gain their attention) or they experience challenges getting attention or being social (e.g., only know how to get attention by pulling someone’s hair, have difficulty communicating verbally, or simply do not understand how to interact with others). When a person with autism seems unsocial, don’t assume it’s a preference; they may just not know how to socialize with confidence.
Myth: Autism only manifests socially.
Autism manifests itself in a variety of ways that are as unique as the person with the disorder. There are four main areas where a person with autism may struggle:
- Socialization/Communication: Some people with autism may have difficulty socializing (in ways mentioned above) or may have communication delays or an inability to speak altogether. They may need to be taught appropriate ways to socialize with others and may need to be taught an alternative way of communicating (e.g., picture symbols, adaptive technology, sign language).
- Occupational: Some struggle with fine motor skills which make it difficult to latch fasteners, pick up objects, open packaging, tie their shoes, or anything that requires dexterity. Some may also have difficulty with daily living skills such as toileting, brushing their teeth, bathing/showering, and other hygiene.
- Sensory: Some people with autism struggle with sensory input and the ability to regulate themselves. They may need extra deep pressure, light touch, or quiet breaks (sometimes with music) or they may have sensitivity to touch, sound or certain textures.
- Behaviour: Some individuals have behaviour difficulties where they may touch people inappropriately (e.g., hugging strangers), may become aggressive when angry as they don’t know another way to express themselves, or may show “stimming” behaviours (e.g. clapping or rocking), rigid behaviours (e.g. perseverating on one thing such as a video game or a book) or self-abusive behaviours (e.g. hitting their head when angry or hitting their legs when excited).
There is no doubt that autism is a very complex disorder and each category has many sub-categories in how these challenges may manifest. It’s up to those involved to take the time to see how unique each individual is and what works for them.
Myth: People with autism are “gifted” by some extraordinary talent or above average intelligence.
This is a very common myth that is perpetuated by media (both video and written). Fewer than 5% of people with autism are “gifted”. Each person with autism is as unique as the next and therefore has a range of intelligence as well as a range of talents depending on each individual.
Myth: People with autism can never function in society.
This could not be further from the truth. A person with autism has their best chance with early intervention but it is never too late. With the proper intervention and support combined with hard work, a person with autism can succeed in gaining a high quality of life. It’s even possible for others to not recognize their autism as a defining aspect of the person.
Overall, autism is a complex disorder and there is no way to cover all aspects of it in one article. It is important to become more aware of this disorder as it is becoming more prominent in society and even more important if it is a part of your own life or the life of someone you know. Knowledge is power, and it will allow you to help understand a person with autism’s world and therefore, build a supportive relationship and improve their quality of life.