Today is World Autism Awareness Day (Thursday, April 2)
Although you’ve probably heard of autistic spectrum condition you may not fully understand it.There are still a lot of misconceptions, such as the following:
1. Autistic people have miraculous special abilities:
Some are good at maths or puzzles, or have amazing memories. But people like Rain Man are few and far between. Besides, it is now thought that Kim Peek, on whom that character was based, had FG Syndrome, and not autism.
2. It’s fake:
Some people still believe it’s just an excuse for bad behaviour or parenting. But autism is an established neurological condition. The brain is wired differently, resulting in delayed language development, strong dependence on routine, sensory processing issues and difficulty in dealing with others.
3. It’s new:
It isn’t, but there was less known about it in the past and often people were institutionalised.
4. You can prevent it:
Autism is probably genetic, but no one knows for certain what causes it.
5. You can cure it:
No. People who say you can will talk about The Window, an invisible casement through which (with the help of various alternative therapies) you can pull your autism-affected child, curing him. In practice, most of the so-called remedies don’t work. Things like dietary intervention can help in some cases, but, as Autism Research Institute director Dr Steve Edelson says, ‘if a practitioner claims to ‘cure’ autism, run in the other direction’.
6. Vaccines cause autism:
No. Mercury has not been used for years, and a supposed link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been debunked.
7. All kinds of autism are the same:
There’s a reason they call it a spectrum – we’re all on it, some further than others. Different people have different combinations of traits.
8. People with autism don’t interact:
Yes they do, when they want to. It’s not the sort of interaction that you might have with neurotypical people, but it’s there. You just have to work at it.
9. People with autism can’t handle change:
Most can, provided the transitions are managed effectively. Everyone is change-averse, it just hits them harder. Remember the hissy fit you threw when someone stole your usual space in the office car park?
10. It’s just a tantrum:
There’s a difference between a tantrum – which is a power play from a child – and a meltdown, which is a loud, uncontrollable emotional outburst resulting from neurological overload.
11. Children grow out of it:
A significant, headline-grabbing few, have developed to the extent that their diagnosis no longer applies, but this doesn’t happen very often.
12. Your autistic child is a unique, beautiful snowflake you wouldn’t change for the world:
Sometimes it’s like this. Other times you’re cleaning s**t off the carpet at 7:30am on a Saturday and wishing you had anybody else’s children.
13. People with autism lack empathy:
They don’t always instantly understand how their actions relate to others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t teach them.
14. Sheldon Cooper has Asperger’s:
He displays Asperger traits, but only when it suits the Big Bang Theory writers.
15. Autistic children cannot engage in imaginative play:
Nonsense. They can create rich, imaginative worlds – they just have difficulty understanding why other people can’t see them.
16. Parents of children with autism just want sympathy:
Maybe some of us do. Some of us wear our hearts on our Facebook timelines. Most of us just want you to understand why our child is running away or screaming in his buggy or why he refuses to sit still, and why we’re tired and grumpy, or can’t go out in the evening because we spend hours putting them to bed.