Recently. I was clearing out my inbox, which has stuff in there going back to 2002 (if I haven't responded by now, well, I guess I am never going to!) and I found some hilarious e-mails and exchanges I had in relation to a little fun exercise I ran years ago across some special needs message boards, which were entitled "The Golden Crock Awards" . We accepted nominations from parents of the biggest "crock" they were handed by a professional regarding the evaluation or diagnosis of their special needs child. There were a few doozies in there. Some I found/remembered:
"He can't have Sensory Integration Dysfunction because he eats potato chips"
- "He can't have Autism because he makes eye contact"
- "She can't be autistic because she smiled at me"
- "He can't be autistic because he is affectionate towards you"
Now, all of these comments were made by professionals: psychologists, teachers, therapists and the like. I got to thinking if the professionals are still saying (untrue) stuff like that, there still must be a lot of myths floating out in the general population. So this is my little attempt to bust a few of them. There are a few "submyths" in there that I thought merited special mention, too.
I know there are a lot of blogs and articles out there about the "myths of Autism" and I read a few of them. I don't want to duplicate anyone's work. The problem I have with most of these other articles is that they talk about this entity "Autism" almost as if it were some kind of entity in its own right.
It isn't. When I use the term "ASD Kid" herein, I am referring to children with an
Autistic Spectrum Disorder. This could include kids with the diagnosis of
Autism, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Autistic Disorder, PDD-NOS (AKA
Atypical Autism), Asperger's Syndrome and High-functioning Autism. I am
not sure if this list also applies to Rhetts Syndrome or CDD because I don't
have enough direct experience of those disorders, even though they are also
Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Myth 1: ASD kids are Loners
When I use the term "ASD Kid" herein, I am referring to children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. This could include kids with the diagnosis of Autism, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Autistic Disorder, PDD-NOS (AKA Atypical Autism), Asperger's Syndrome and High-functioning Autism. I am not sure if this list also applies to Rhetts Syndrome or CDD because I don't have enough direct experience of those disorders, even though they are also Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
ASD Kids Don't Make Friends
ASD Kids Can't Make Friends
ASD Kids Don't WANT Friends
These myths seem all to be predicated on a single incorrect assumption: That an Autistic spectrum disorder only impacts introverts (and is then compounded by another assumption that introverts don't want or need friends). Extroverts seemingly get off scot free in this myth. You know, if that were true, we could shortcut a lot of the research and just concentrate on the differences between the introvert and extrovert personality. That way, we would probably have Autism solved in about three years.
But Autism does not discriminate based on personality. Extroverts are just as likely to be impacted. The difference between introverted and extroverted ASD kids is that the extroverted kids will attempt way more social interaction. They just usually go about it all wrong! Joe's preferred method of initiating play when he was a non-verbal little tyke was to charge up to an unsuspecting kid and bodyslam him/her. Needless to say, this method -while an excellent way of gaining someone's attention (and their Moms!), was a poor way to initiate positive interaction. Joe needed to be taught how to approach kids and talk to them. It was not something he inherently understood, as most regular kids do.
The very sad thing about this series of myths is that they can become self-fulfilling. ASD kids can become frustrated after repeatedly failing to connect or bond with other kids. Or they can become sensitive to other kids' remarks about them being "weird" (etc. etc. ad nauseum). Because let's face it: All kids can say mean things, whether intended or inadvertent, and eventually the ASD kid just won't be able to take the rejection and pain, and will opt to stay indoors and play videogames.
Another thing that can happen -especially to the introverted ASD kids, is that they realize a little later in their childhood that they actually DO want friends, but starting late, they have difficulty breaking into the interactions, social circles and cliques that have developed amongst their peers while they were off in AutismLand.
Despite all this, many kids with an ASD can and do make friends. They often tend to have one or two close friends rather than a large circle of friends, and they generally tend to prefer one-on-one or small group activities as opposed to large group activities. I am generalizing here (which I hate); there may well be the social butterfly Autie out there who has lots of friends and thrives in large groups!
Myth 2. ASD kids have no sense of humor
Submyth: ASD Kids Don't Smile or Don't Really Laugh.
Yeah, right! The kid on the right,who is trying to "sneakily" smoosh the icecream into his sister's face, is autistic.
Many ASDs kid do have a good sense of humor and often respond very well to humor from others. Many of these kids will have quite a dry sense of humor, and while they may not get certain jokes, they can floor you with some other forms of wit: including sarcasm! (I know! Free mythbuster! Some ASD kids understand and use sarcasm!)
ASD kids do laugh and smile. They just may not laugh or smile at you.
Get over it.
Myth 3. ASD Kids Can't/Don't do Sports
While many kids with ASD can have problem with muscle tone and hand/eye coordination, some can be quite sporty and coordinated. Remember Jason McElwain, that kid who scored all those points in basketball?
Of course, a lot depends on the sport and the support of the team and coaches, but having Autism does not mean one is automatically excluded from all sports, ever.
Myth 4. All ASD kids Have Special or Amazing Talents (like Rainman)
Submyth: Aspie Kids are "Little Professors"
Wrong on both counts. It is perfectly normal and acceptable to have Autism and NOT have any super savant skills. Yes, some ASD kids have great memories and splinter skills at directions or math. However the estimated number of true Autistic Savants is very small indeed. it is thought that there are approximately TEN (10) individuals in the entire world who are are true savants.
Some ASD kids are very smart, and some will appear very smart when talking about their special interest, but in truth, many ASD kids simply have a regular IQ with a hearty side of Autism.
And some are mentally retarded.
And while many Aspies do use language a little differently than the general population and many will talk your ear off about all sorts of things from lightbulbs to the Milky Way, Aspie kids are kids first and Aspies second. It is a mistake to forget this.
Myth 5. ASD kids Have No Empathy
This myth is bullshit, pure and simple. ASD kids can and do have empathy. A lot of the time their problem lies in determining when empathy is appropriate, because they have such a hard time reading facial expressions and body language. So while an Autie may understand a very clear signal, like crying, he may misunderstand a more subtle (to him) signal, such as a grimace of pain. Once they gain some skills with regard to reading people (or have a situation explained to them), some ASD kids can become remarkably empathetic. I talk a little bit more about this here.
Myth 6. ASD Kids are a Result of Bad Parenting
More bullshit. Many parents of ASD kids also have neurotypical children. So how can that be explained? Both parents just spontanously decided to use a completely different parenting style on the other kid(s) Think about it. That theory just makes no sense.
Myth 7. ASD kids are Not Affectionate.
Not true, although how they show affection can vary hugely: Contrary to the sterotypes, some ASD kids can be huggy and kissy.However, most will relate to people differently and will show their affection in ways that are not easily understandable to a neurotypical... anyone.
For example, many ASD kids may relate to people through objects. An ASD child may show you huge favor or affection by giving you something special (to him) or by allowing you to hold or stroke their favorite thing. You just may not appreciate the gesture (which in turn might insult the child, and we are back to the self-fulfilling thing again).
Myth 8. All ASD Kids are Touch Adverse
It is true that some (many) Auties are touch adverse, because of tactile defensiveness.
Yet even the touch adverse kids may like certain kinds of touch. Grace used to jump out of her skin if you gently touched her or even if you brushed against her, but she loved to be held tightly or massaged. As Temple Grandin said "light touch is alerting, deep touch is soothing".
Myth 9. ASD kids Don't (Can't) Tell Lies
Most can and will. However, they usually stink at it.
Myth 10: ASD Kids Don't (Can't) Make Eye Contact
That whole "no eye contact=autism" equation is a TOTAL myth. For starters, bad eye contact is not exclusive to Autism and is not a hallmark of the condition. I don't have Autism and I had a problem with eye contact as a kid. Heck, I didn't learn eye contact until a Dublin street musician taught me the value of it one summer afternoon when I was 19 (...and yes (Rob) That was all he taught me). I never saw him again. I don't even know his name -but I am forever grateful to him.
And while it is true that many ASD kids can have problems with eye contact, many can develop the skill (or learn to fake it) with training or with people they trust.
And there are some ASD kids who can and do make great eye contact with almost anyone. So don't let me hear anyone say "He can't be autistic because he makes eye contact". It is not a hard and fast rule.
oh and ...Hello?
I remind you again: If you've met one kid with Autism, you've met one kid with Autism.
Bonus myth: You Can Tell if a Kid Has Autism (or Not) Just by Looking
If you go back at the photographs in this post, -just the pictures, not the text (because the text will tell you). Can you tell just by looking, which kid or kids have Autism and which don't?
Be honest: You can't.That's why it is called a hidden disability.
So the next time you see a "spoiled" and screaming child while out-and-about, please remember -before you judge- that the child could have a hidden disability such as Autism.
Please Note: All text and images in this post are copyright (c) One Sick Mother, 2001-2010 and may not be distributed or re-used without express written permission from the author.