If you were to ask strangers on the street what their impressions of autistic people are, you’d probably hear the same old crap: Autistic people are geeks, have amazing memories, don’t have many feelings, can’t show empathy, have few, if any relationships or friendships, and are essentially emotionless robots.
This prototypical autistic person would have the appearance of a Milhouse Van Houten–style dork and, in terms of personality, be somewhere between Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock.
This is the pervading view of autism and autistic people. And it’s a load of shit.
Autism specifically is a disorder (not an illness—autism on its own is not a mental health problem or a disability) where the main issue is an inability to understand emotions and nonverbal communication. Where most people can convey their mood by their demeanor, tone of voice, and facial expressions, an autistic person will struggle to grasp that, especially at an early age. Autism is in effect mindblindness, making it hard to form relationships and get on other people’s wavelengths.
I myself have Asperg er’s syndrome. On the autism spectrum, which starts from being neurotypical on one end to full-blown autistic on the other, Asperger’s is nearer to autism than neurotypical—it’s autism light, basically.
When it comes to emotions—and I can’t emphasize this enough—it is a myth that autistic people don’t feel any. In fact, the opposite is true. In the words of Carol Povey, director of the National Autistic Society’s Centre for Autism in the UK, autistic people “actually often feel emotions more intensely than their peers due to over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, or colors.” So we do feel emotions—the alienation comes because it’s very difficult for us to express or interpret them.
A lot of these mistruths derive from how autistic folk simply don’t express much emotion. As Sarah Hen drickx, an author and speaker on autism, says, “I think a big part of this misnomer is that because we sometimes don’t make many facial expressions or do much social smiling, people presume we are ‘blank’ or ‘flat’ inside as well.” Impressions, truly in this case, can be deceiving.
For example: You might smile at autistic people, and we won’t smile back. Why? Not because we dislike you or because we don’t have feelings or even because you have bad breath, but because we don’t get the message, conveyed through a smile, that we’re supposed to be friendly to you.
I have other, personal, examples of this sort of behavior. At primary school I once made a friend cry by saying his painting was “rubbish.” I didn’t understand that would upset him. Another time I didn’t get my dad anything for Father’s Day, thinking he wouldn’t care. Well, he did care and was devastated that I didn’t even get him a card.
On a daily basis I have stuttering conversations, worry I’ve upset people when I haven’t, get confused when people don’t specify things, nearly walk into people because I can’t work out which way they want to go past me, and suffer from prolonged tiredness because of the mental energy expended trying to understand all this. All these things, to me at least, are part and parcel of having Asperger’s syndrome.
It’s these issues that have a negative impact on the lives of millions of people who have autism. When you struggle to have normal conversations with others or form relationships and friendships, when you are mocked and ridiculed for your eccentricities and strange habits by those who don’t know better, it catches up with you.
Often, people think you’re just being rude. As Hendrickx puts it, “If you’re an intellectually able person with autism and you make a faux pas the automatic assumption is that you are smart enough to know and therefore have done it on purpose.” But speaking from my own experience, nothing could be further from the truth.
Autism is a hidden disability, invisible to the naked eye, so other people don’t see what we go through.
Read More. Here