There’s no denying that autism is a complicated subject. The causes are still unknown and the autism community is divided due to many controversies. However, there are a few misconceptions that should not be argued about, even though they sometimes still are.
1. Autistic people lack empathy and are incapable of feelings. False.
It’s a common misconception that people with autism aren’t capable of feelings and empathy. If anything, for me it’s the opposite — I feel too much. While it is rare for me to connect with people emotionally, when I do, I really do. I love with all I’ve got.
I think a lot of autistic people don’t share our feelings in a way that’s obvious. If I try to express my feelings at a level that makes sense to other people, I feel incredibly overwhelmed myself. When emotions take me over, I become unable to communicate well. Many autistics will find their own way to communicate. For me, it’s by writing.
2. Autism is a disease. False.
Autism is a neurological condition. You can’t cure autism. We are born autistic and always will be. Therapy can help us live better lives and learn skills, but it doesn’t take autism away.
3. Autism is visible. False.
Unlike Down syndrome, autism doesn’t have any physical traits. On that note, telling someone they don’t look autistic may seem like a compliment, but it’s often not. It can feel dismissive, as if because our struggles aren’t visible, we can just “get our act together” and act like everybody else. Autism doesn’t have an on-off switch, and while I’m able to “pass” in many situations, it’s exhausting. People don’t realize how much work goes into looking “normal.”
4. Vaccines cause autism. False.
They don’t. It’s science. Another study just came out in March 2019 (funded by anti-vaxxers looking for science to support their side), proving again that there is no link between autism and vaccines.
5. All autistic people have a “splinter skill.” False.
This myth comes from cliché representations of autism in the media where most autistic characters are portrayed as having some kind of incredible splinter skill. The most popular example of this is the character Rain Man, who counts many toothpicks on the floor in a matter of seconds. In reality, very few of us autistics have those kinds of skills.
I do have a few useless skills, like remembering dates and events from years ago. I can tell you what I was wearing on May 28th, 2003 and what I ate on that day. Sadly that skill doesn’t help me in any way when it comes to finding my keys or cell phone.
6. Autistic people do not want friends. False.
I crave friendships and deep emotional connections. My lack of social skills and limited ability to express my feelings get in the way, but I want friends. I like people. Just like many, I also need to spend time alone, and tend to be head-in-the-clouds, but I love interacting with people who spark something in me.
That said, as much as I cringe when people say the “wrong” thing because of common misconceptions, I still appreciate people making an effort to talk about it. Many of us autistic adults are happy to engage in discussions, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. I promise you, if we don’t want to talk, we’ll tell you! Here are some conversation openers: “What is it like for you?” “What can I do to help you?” or “Can I ask you questions?” Most importantly, remember to be kind and treat us like anyone else.