“After years of working with children on the spectrum, one fact has become clear as day: if you’ve met a person with autism, you’ve met only one individual with autism. The constellation of common characteristics in autistic persons can be starkly different. This is to say that with so many unique individuals, the autism community is more diverse than you can imagine,” said Dr Stephen Shore, co-founder, Learn Autism.
He added that this fact, along with many others about autism, is lesser-known in India and in many parts of the world. Therefore, the need for building awareness and bolstering inclusion is imperative.
Myth 1: Autistic individuals cannot build or maintain relationships
Fact – Individuals on the spectrum can form fulfilling and lasting relationships. While we commonly display differences in social interaction and communication, we do not characteristically prefer social isolation. Autistic individuals frequently have trouble understanding social cues, which is why they can build stronger relationships with people who are empathetic, patient, and willing to understand their perspectives. Here, one-on-one interaction through social media can be a beneficial first step.
Myth 2: Autism can be cured with medication
Fact – Whereas many people believe that Autism can be cured with a certain set of medicines, there is no such medicine available, or even required to ‘treat’ Autism. Autism is an irreversible neurodevelopmental difference that on one hand can be very disordering, yet on the other, can provide pathways to developing incredible skills in areas such as the sciences, the arts, education, and elsewhere. While Autism cannot be ‘cured’, focusing on abilities empowers Autistic individuals to lead happy, productive, and independent lives with the right support and intervention.
Myth 3: Individuals with Autism are intellectually inferior
Fact – People with Autism have the same range of intellect as the general population and can excel at one or more things just like everybody else. Different people can have different gifts, such as mathematical ability, artistic excellence, etc. It just boils down to becoming aware of and nurturing the person’s interests to reveal talents and abilities.
Myth 4: Everyone with Autism is non-speaking
Fact – The reason why we call it the ‘Autism Spectrum’ is because it is just that – a range of different people, personalities, behavior patterns, interests, and abilities. Thus, to say that each Autistic individual is non-speaking would be entirely misguided. Some individuals on the spectrum merely have impaired social communication skills. Others may have difficulties in comprehension. And, another percentage of individuals may not speak at all, yet interact through an assistive communication device, a letter board, or sign language. An Autism diagnosis is broad, which makes personalised interventions focused on individual needs critical.
Myth 5: Repetitive tasks suit Autistic individuals the best
Fact – Repetitive behaviour is seen in a lot of people on the spectrum. However, as established above, there are diverse behaviour patterns to be seen in Autistic individuals. Therefore, while some may enjoy repetitive jobs, others may be suited to other, more complex job roles. Given this fact, parents, educators, etc. need to identify the strengths and look at the most suitable career paths for Autistic youth and adults.
Some individuals on the Autism spectrum can go through life independently and others require a great deal of support at every stage. At the end of the day, it comes down to the support system, ensuring a successful and happy life. If we know someone on the spectrum, the best thing is to educate ourselves, avoid baseless myths, and encourage awareness and inclusion wherever we can for promoting a fulfilling and productive life for individuals on the Autism spectrum.