When the word Autism comes up, some people immediately experience fear. That’s because the unknown is frightening. I want to help people overcome this fear. I want to encourage parents to be their child’s super hero and in the process dispel some common myths and stereotypes about Autism that some people believe.
First of all, let’s talk about what Autism is. I know that it’s referred to medically as Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’m here to give you another viewpoint.
What Autism really is is a brain difference. A neurodifference. Many advocates for the Autistic call that neurodivergent.
It’s a different way of thinking. Yes, there are severe cases and those are heart breaking and much help is needed for those individuals in this situation. Anyone on the Autistic Spectrum certainly needs support and a variety of healing methodologies.
Furthermore, Autism often comes with several co-morbidities, like Sensory Processing Disorder or ADHD. Some neurodivergent proponents see Autism and Aspergers as separate, others don’t like Aspergers at all because of the history of Asperger, who is purported to have sent Autistic children to their deaths during the Hitler regime.
Be that as it may, as the saying goes, if you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.
How do I know this? Because I am a mother to my Autistic son, Sam, and a wife to my Autistic husband, Travis. In our household, we usually refer to it as Aspergers. It is called high functioning Autism these days and is it not in the diagnostic manual.
It’s been a wild ride since 2008 when I started learning about Aspergers and Autism. It changed my life and changed my family’s life. For the better. I went through many different kinds of healing modalities to help my son. Sometimes they failed. Others succeeded.
Today my son is 22 and he’s starting to spread his wings. He went from hiding in front of his computer most of the time and not talking to anyone but me to learning a valuable skill and starting his career as a contract graphic designer and illustrator. He also assists me in an outreach to kids, many of whom are Autistic. I have worked with kids on the Spectrum for over five years through this outreach.
So what makes Autism difficult or frightening is usually not that child but how society treats that child.
I liken it to be being left-handed in a right-handed world. Something I know a lot about since I am left handed. I want you to think about it. Are we left handers wrong or weird because we don’t fit in the usual mold? Should being left-handed be beaten or guilted out of us? This actually used to be the case a hundred years ago. The system of the day tried that with my grandmother but she wouldn’t comply.
My goal is to change the narrative from awareness to acceptance. I am here to extinguish fear. Autism and fear or to be frightened of the Autistic is one of the root problems of stigma in the Autistic community. Let’s replace fear with love and acceptance. I am here to be a beacon of hope connecting the Autistic community to anyone who seeks love and understanding. Anyone can tolerate Autism but it takes heroes to embrace the Autistic and this is a community that seeks to grow and embrace in return.
So here are the myths:
1) An Autistic person will never be able to function
Actually, a lot of people with Autism are savants. They have found a way to channel their hyper focus. This includes my husband and son. Travis just got his biggest architectural contract ever! My son now has two contract jobs and a third one is going to happen soon.
Yes, they had support—my support. What they really needed was someone who believed in them and who would patiently work through all their challenges.
2) An Autistic person is unable to learn
They may not learn in the traditional way, but what they learn sticks with them for a lifetime. The key is an Autistic person needs to find the way THEY learn best.
My son demonstrated that to me from a young age. As soon as I started homeschooling him, Sam would spend his free time learning about dinosaurs. That was the first of a long series of research Sam undertook on his own and he is still at it today. When he learns, it is deep and he does not forget. We’re talking more than learning a date or memorizing math tables. This is critical thinking at its finest!
My husband also demonstrates this. Though Travis struggled academically in school, he earned a degree in Construction Engineering from Texas Tech. Later he became a licensed architect after taking seven very hard exams. He passed them the first time. Yes, he was able to learn new things!
3) Incapable of maintaining relationships
Knowing social cues is hard for the Autistic but they can learn. My son is very good at boundaries and communicating his feelings. He’s better at it than me!
To the Autistic, trust is earned and they can be very loyal. It’s a matter of learning how they best communicate. And giving them support and grace.
For instance, my husband gets overwhelmed in stores, therefore I send him a simple list via text and try to be as specific as possible. I don’t expect him to remember a verbal list. I wouldn’t remember a list! I order most of our groceries online and he picks them up. This streamlining has really helped us function and less misunderstandings happen.
As far as maintaining a relationship, my husband and I have been married for nearly 25 years and I’m very close to my son. I can see that my son is going to be a wonderful husband and father some day.
4) An Autistic person lacks compassion
Just because an Autistic can’t express empathy at the time, doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Many Autistics are perfectly capable of having empathy. In fact, some may have TOO much. They may be empaths.
I see this in my son. When I get upset, it upsets him. Deeply. He wants to see me happy. Perhaps it’s a little harder for my husband but he’s definitely learned over the years to have compassion for me and to use words like, “I’m sad for you.”
5) An Autistic person is not able to support themselves
Again, Autism is a spectrum. The truth is many Autistics have incredible skills because they are able to focus on one skill and hone it to a master-level degree.
And actually, tech companies seek out Autistics as employees.
In my own family, Travis has been the major bread winner since we have been married, for most of those years as an employee. With my help and our team work, he is now self-employed and just landed the biggest contract he’s ever had.
Like I said before, our son who is our apprentice has two contract jobs through our businesses and he’s about to get a third. He has a bright, promising future.
Long ago when Sam was diagnosed, I made the decision that I would not seek social security for him. This was because I believed in his potential. To me, getting him SSI would tell him that he’s not capable of making it on his own.
Of course, every parent has to make that decision for themselves and EVERY CASE is different. I just knew in my gut that my son was going to reach his potential.
Sure, there are challenges. Travis had a hard time with interviewing when he was looking to switch jobs years ago. He got the help he needed.
What Autistics need is support, love, and acceptance. So if you are close to an Autistic and want to help them, here’s what you can do:
- Help the Autistic find their super power, their special gift or interest they can turn into a skill.
- Look for alternative therapies, ones that don’t make them feel ashamed to be Autistic
- Find out what’s behind their behavior
- Go for different healing modalities
I hope that helps dispel some of the myths that are out there about Autism. It’s not a disease to be ashamed of or even need healing from. Yes, there are real issues that need help and therapy, especially for those who are non-verbal and completely non-functioning.
But they are people who deserve compassion, understanding, and acceptance because they are people first and foremost!