There are some myths and stereotypes around autism that are unfortunately often referred to. Here are a few of the ones I regularly hear:
Autistic people must have an area of genius ability X
Autistic people often have unique skills, talents or knowledge in certain areas due to having strong interests (monotropism), but this doesn’t mean they have a “genius skill”.
Everyone’s a bit autistic! X
No, no, just no! I think people sometimes say this to try and empathise. However, it often has the opposite effect. Yes, there are traits that are part of an autism profile, that are shared with people who aren’t autistic. This is because they are human traits, and we are all human! However, the extent to which an autistic person experiences them, and the impact it has on daily life, will be very different from someone who is not autistic. One point to note here is that there are undiagnosed autistic individuals who may be unaware of their autistic identity but share these traits.
Autistic people can’t make eye contact X
While eye contact can be something autistic individuals find uncomfortable, or even painful, some autistic people can and do give eye contact.Some people ‘mask’ throughout the day, subjecting themselves to uncomfortable eye contact because they believe it is expected of them, even if this is painful.
Meltdowns are ‘just naughty behaviour’ X
When someone experiences a meltdown, they generally lose control and are unaware of the reactions of others. It is the exact same survival response someone has when they are in life threatening danger! Even if you are very safe, it feels incredibly frightening.
Anyone who has ever experienced meltdown, knows they aren’t just naughty behaviour and they definitely are not a choice. Just because others cannot see the trigger, it doesn’t mean it isn’t real to that individual.
They can’t be autistic as they are fine in school! X
Masking often explains those situations when someone behaves very differently from home to school. Home is often a person’s safe place, where they feel accepted and comfortable enough to be their true self. People often assume you are fine in school, even if you are really struggling because they cannot see that you are holding in how you truly feel.
Autistic people don’t care about others X
It was previously thought by researchers that ‘autistic people lack empathy’. While autistic individuals generally may find non-autistic social cues difficult to understand, this does not mean they don’t care about others. Many autistic people actually feel the emotions of others very strongly but can feel so overpowered by the emotion that they don’t know how to respond.
Autistic people don’t have a sense of humour X
This myth may have come about because autistic people often have different humour to non-autistic people, so may not always find non-autistic people very funny. We are also less likely to engage in ‘social laughter’ (this is a common thing where non-autistic people laugh at something which they don’t actually find funny – it’s a bit confusing!).