Autism Awareness Month, Day 29: Debunking Aspie Myths


I know all about that stuff. I’ve been exploited all my life. ~Dan Aykroyd (self-disclosed Aspie), “The Blues Brothers”

For all you readers who were waiting breathlessly for my writeup of the British royal wedding, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. I didn’t watch it and had no desire to do so. Famous people don’t interest me in the least. Just for the next two days at least, I’m sticking with my month-long theme of Autism Awareness. One of these days, just to see how many hits I get, I plan on putting “sexy Megan Fox pics” in my keywords, but today is not that day. Back on topic, now…

Although instances of autism, or at least diagnoses, have increased by leaps and bounds within the last decade, autism as a whole is often misunderstood by the general public. The average person, if he or she knows anything about autism at all, is liable to think of the (cliched) title character of Rain Man. Those of us on the spectrum, particularly Aspies and high-functioning autistics, must act as ambassadors to NTs. There is as much diversity among us as there is among the general populace. Today’s post is all about the most common myths about people with AS. It’s important to know that not every person with AS will exhibit all the classic symptoms. Some may not even “appear” autistic. That’s why it’s a spectrum!

Myth #1: Autistic people have no sense of humor, or, if they do, it’s extremely dry.

This is a matter of perception. What amuses many NTs won’t even elicit a smile from many Aspies, and vice versa. Because Aspies usually don’t outwardly display their emotions on their sleeves, it may appear as though they are humorless even if they are “laughing on the inside.” On the other side of this, some Aspies may laugh at inappropriate times (ie at someone’s appearance or in a place like a funeral.) One observation on my part is that Aspie humor tends to be along the lines of European comedy. Watch Monty Python or Blackadder with your Aspie friend; you may be shocked to hear them laughing for a change.

Myth #2: Aspies are cold, aloof, asexual loners in the vein of Mr. Spock.

No, this isn’t true either. Part of the problem is that dating is a hypersocial activity with many unwritten rules, which can confuse the hell out of an Aspie. The quiet, introspective person at work or school may not be cold or cruel; he or she may be too shy to say a word. One thing I do know from personal experience is that many Aspies think of love as something to be scientifically and empirically understood. It just doesn’t work that way. Trust me, we’re not ignoring…we’re observing, and being cautious.

Myth #3: All Aspies have a special interest which is the center of their universe.

Admittedly, most Aspies *do* have a special interest, whether it’s Russian history or dinosaurs, aviation or stamp collecting. Then again, many NTs do too. It’s just usually not as intense. Anyone who knows me knows, given the opportunity, I can talk about horses, astronomy, or The A-Team all day long. Do I? Usually not. I know conversation is like a tennis match: strictly a back-and-forth affair. In order to get anyone to like us, we Aspies have to learn the art of give and take. This usually means limiting our special interest to the fringes of conversations.

Myth #4: Aspies and auties do “weird” stuff to make themselves feel better.

While it is true that “stimming” is a part of life for many on the spectrum, it’s usually not as exaggerated as the media makes it out. Yes, there are hand flappers, lip chewers, and foot shifters out there. If it helps relieve stress, I say, go for it, as long as it’s the right time and place. But these “stims” can also be more subtle. For example, when I become overwhelmed, I often fold whatever is at hand into polygon shapes. Napkins, tinfoil, sugar packets. It’s like stress origami. Unless people know me well, they usually chalk it up to my creative side.

Myth #5: Autism miraculously goes away when one turns 18.

Many NTs think of autism as a childhood disorder. It’s true that many adults (including myself) spent years without knowing they were on the spectrum. Many more still may never get a diagnosis. As it stands, there is no cure for AS and no one seems to agree what causes it. A child who is diagnosed now will need support, in whatever form, for most of his or her life. The main difference I’ve noticed is that adults have a lifetime of experience, not to mention trial and error, to draw upon, while a child does not. This is where parents, therapists, and specialists can step in.

Myth #6: Aspies are strict literalists and generally not capable of creative play.

I have *no* idea where this one started. As I’ve experienced it, there are indeed very left-brain type Aspies, just as there are in any group. I’ve also met plenty of Aspie artists, musicians, writers, and actors. In fact, I’d argue that AS actually gives a person an additional creative streak. So what if he or she doesn’t want to play what the other kids are playing? That is where innovation comes from.

Myth #7: Aspies don’t care about others.

This is maybe the most harmful myth of all. I’ve heard it said (and sometimes by fairly prominent NTs in the media) that AS is just an excuse to be a sociopathic jerk or a selfish bastard. I’m sure somethere there are sociopathic Aspies, just as there are sociopathic NTs. The main difference is that for most Aspies, being independent and self-sufficient is more important than being liked. However, the vast majority of Aspies I’ve known desperately want to be liked and accepted. This is a basic human need. We may just lack the social toolbox needed to get there. Trust me, if I could trade a bit of dry wit for social savvy, I’d do it.

Tomorrow I hope to wrap up this month-long project with a look back on what I’ve learned. Thanks to everyone for all their support throughout, and for linking. Don’t forget to click that “Like” button!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 30, 2011.

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