5 Common Myths about Autism
1. People with autism don’t look at you
Inconsistent eye contact may be common amongst some but not all individuals with autism. Some people with autism may not intuitively look a person in the eye when talking to them, but may choose to focus instead on other parts of the face or body to gain meaning.
2. People with autism are not interested in social interaction
Most people with autism are very keen to have friends and interact socially, but often have difficulties knowing how to make and keep friends. Social graces do not come naturally to people with autism, so they often need to be explicitly taught the “hidden” social rules. They may come across to others as shy or even unfriendly, but that is only because they may not be able to communicate their desire for relationships in the same way that you or I do.
3. People with autism do not express, feel or understand emotions
Autism does not make an individual unable to feel the emotions you feel, it just makes the person communicate emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways. Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism may not detect an emotion (e.g. sadness) based solely on someone’s body language, facial expression or tone of voice. However, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.
4. People with autism are not affectionate
People with autism can and do show affection, but this expression may vary from person to person because of differing responses to sensory stimuli. People with autism may be oversensitive to touch or hugs, but conversely may have a high threshold for pain. Whilst people with autism may appear to others to be “detached”, this does not indicate a lack of interest in being affectionate – it may be underpinned by a desire to engage in a pursuit that they may be more interested in. Likewise some people may need to understand the purpose of hugging to be taught this social convention.
5. People with autism are just like Dustin Hoffman in “Rainman” and have “savant skills”
Most people with autism do not have any special savant skills. Some do have “splinter skills” which are areas of high performance that are not consistent with other skill levels. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that knowing one person with autism. His/her capabilities and limitations are no indication of capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.