But they don’t give eye contact do they?
They don’t show empathy do they?
They don’t like being with people do they?
I could go on! The above list is an example of some Autism myths I have heard over the years from all walks of life including Professionals!
I was always told that to believe everything one hears is to be a slave to another person’s agenda!
In life, we often hear something and because we do not know any different, we instantly believe it!
In regards to Autism, it is especially true because you will probably find that,wherever you go, people think they know all about it! Often, what they do know or think they know is completely false. It is best , in cases like these, to find things out for oneself by speaking to people who KNOW! Who knows then? The best experts on Autism are the people who spend every day living with it. Either the person themselves or the parent or carer-these are the people who really know what Autism is and how to live with it, in a world which constantly tells us what to feel, how to think, and what to know!
The truth is, that there are no rules when it comes to Autism. If you have met one person with Autism, then you have met one person with Autism! That is what they say, because every person with Autism is unique!
Whilst writing today’s post , I am reflecting on the journey that has brought me to this point, where I can write about Autism from a personal point of view. However, the Autism myths out there desperately require addressing and the acknowledgment that they are actually just guidelines, NOT fact!
For example- the myth that most people readily are told and believe, is about eye contact. I hear so many people say to me things like ” he cant be Autistic because he gives eye contact to us” Okay, so maybe the child does look at their parent, but just check how they act around people they do not know, or people who will make demands on them, ie Teachers. Do they give them eye contact? Let us flip the coin- does a child like my Jay, always refuse to give eye contact? He is Classic Autism ( low-functioning) so he must NEVER give eye contact right? No, actually Jay will give his close family eye contact, he gives the camera eye contact, and also if someone has said something or shown him something that particularly interests him, he will give that person full eye contact. Whether or not a person gives eye contact will depend on factors, such as , where they are, who they are with, or what the person is doing. FACT– many children and adults with Autism feel uncomfortable when sustaining eye contact and some say it hurts them to give pro-longed eye contact. However, it is not a fact , that ALL people with Autism cannot give eye contact-they can, in certain circumstances, but, it can be that they find it a hell to do so!
Giving beautiful full eye contact to the camera comes natural to Jay.
Showing Empathy to others- another Autism myth! So many people believe that people with Autism do not show or have empathy. It is just SO not true! My sweet boy is not able to tell me he is feeling empathy or show me, as he has severe communication difficulties due to language delay and Autism. However, ever since Jay was a child of three, he would, when reading stories or watching sad parts in films, express concern by saying “aww he sad aww!!”
When ever I would say the word No to Jay, he would stroke my face and make a sympathetic noise and focus his eyes on mine, to let me know he knew I was upset. I now do not say the word no, and have not for five years as it upsets him -not because he is in trouble, but because he thinks I am hurt in some way. I now say to him ” lets not do that” or “we must not do that. I believe Jay reacts to No because it is a negative word, and never has a positive vibe. Using the other phrases instead, helps Jay to understand that something is wrong, yet I do not want Jay to become anxious because I have said No. Ever since he was very young, hearing No, he has cried hysterically and stroked my face making sounds of pity and saying ” its okay” over and over to reassure himself and I, even though I was fine. I can conclude that something about the word No distresses him in an unusual way. Maybe he has TOO much empathy because he seems to think that there is something wrong with me-that I am distressed.
FACT– people with Autism can feel empathy, they just do not know how to express it as they have communication difficulties. FACT– they do struggle to understand things from another person’s point of view-this can seem like they are not showing empathy. Jay has low functioning Autism so his developmental age is two so we really would not expect a two year old to show empathy, so a lot of it is to do with the child’s development. If , like Jay they have severe delays, then empathy may well have not been developed yet in their brain, however, to categorize every child or adult with Autism and say they don’t feel empathy is really unjust and unfair, because they all have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else does!!
They don’t like being with other people? This again is only partly true! It is a very real struggle for people with Autism to “fit in” and “conform” to Social norms, and to make relationships. However this does not mean they cannot or do not want to. I know from experience, that Jay makes every effort to play with and join in games of children who do not have Autism and he will try his best to make it work! Yet it is true he prefers his home environment where he feels safe and no demands are made. He prefers the many soft toys he owns and he makes friends with them and talks to them and enjoys their company! In the case of children and adults with Autism, they want very much to make relationships and be part of other people’s lives, and to feel a part of things and included. FACT– having Autism does not necessarily mean a child or person wants to be alone. It just means that it is so much harder for them to make it work with someone and to be accepted!
The Media, and even some Professionals, tell you these so called facts about this complex condition, and most people believe them, until they get to know someone with Autism. This, potentially will throw out of the water, all the things you ever thought you knew about the condition. Instead of assuming and pre-judging people with Autism, I say, let us get to know the real person underneath and give them the chance to show they CAN do these things with some support, and are capable of learning skills just like everyone is! I say, let’s find things out for ourselves from the experts, which are not, in my humble opinion, the Professionals or the Media. No, the true knowledge of Autism and how it effects the person, lies in the minds of the Carers, Parents, Family and of course in the person who has the condition. Let’s listen to them because THEY really know!!
Jay’s Term Time versus Jay’s Holidays- Coping with Transitions.