So... Autism, what exactly isn't it?


In my article entitled 'So... Autism, what exactly is it' I talked about just that, but what I didn't talk about, was what an uninformed person might think Autism is.  So I'm going to go over some commonly held beliefs and myths and debunk them... Coz they ain't true!

Exceptionally naughty

Autistic behaviour isn't bad behaviour.

An Autistic person (young or old) having a Meltdown is NOT behaving badly, in the same way as a child with no legs is not refusing to walk.

A meltdown can present in many ways, but the most commonly held view of a Meltdown is that it looks like an enormous tantrum.  I don't know if anyone has researched the commonalities of types of meltdowns, but i imagine it is the most common type.  I can understand why, to the untrained eye, it can look like a huge tantrum.  A meltdown can present with being red in the face, sweaty, screaming, shouting, lying on the floor thrashing, wailing, hitting objects, hitting themselves, biting themselves, threats to other people and of self-harm, aggressive behaviour, swearing and blindly fleeing and much more.  This can be the same in both adults and children.

A meltdown should never be compared to a tantrum.  A tantrum serves a purpose (and yes Autistics are capable of them), but a meltdown is uncontrollable.

Bad behaviour can cover a multitude of things.  Of course Autistics are capable of bad behaviour, but often, what can from the outside appear as bad behaviour (Running away, not paying attention, not listening, doing the opposite of what's been asked, only doing half a task etc), can actually be attributed to Autism, either through Sensory Overwhelm, Auditory Processing Delay, Executive Dysfunction, routine control etc. So before reacting to an apparently disobedient/naughty child/adult, perhaps take a minute to process the context of why, not just the what.

And ignore old Agnes from number 37 who comments "They didn't have this Autism thingy in my day!"

They did, old lady, except you didn't talk about it and locked them into mental Institutions...

Able to look you in the eye

If i had a penny for ever time I'd been forced to make eye contact with somebody, I'd be a millionaire by now.  Eye contact is painful for us.  It's really hard to describe why, for me the explanation that I'm exposing myself to someone fully, kind of feels comfortable but i don't think its the only reason.  Regardless, like i said, it's painful to us.  Not making eye contact doesn't mean I'm not listening, if you're worried that I'm not, ask me to repeat what you've just said (Give me a second though, as i made not of had time to process what you said).

I'm Autistic though and an expert at Masking.  To make you feel comfortable, if i have to look at your face, I'll make regular eye contact with your eyebrows, the bridge of your nose, your eyelids, I'll focus on your tear ducts, even that spot underneath your left eyebrow.

Anywhere but your soul piercing eyeballs...

Shy

Autism isn't shyness, nor is it even extreme shyness.

According to Google:

Shyness is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness especially when a person is around other people. This commonly occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people.

So, does an Autistic feel apprehensive, a lack of comfort, or awkwardness around other people?

Well yes to a degree, but if you took that degree and multiplied it by 400,000,000 you'd be vaguely near how i feel. Not all Autistics feel like that.  Some are blindly oblivious to the fact that anyone else is in the room.  Some, like me, are crippled by what is now termed as Social Anxiety (This is a really loose term that is applied to Autistics alongside everyone else that is socially awkward, but doesn't REALLY apply to us), but our social anxiety goes massively beyond that, it's tied in with Sensory overload (Try following a conversation when every noise in the room is at the same volume = loud and you cannot tune any of it out..., when you can't keep up with every movement in the room, every smell, every touch...).

Grand conversation

Autistic 'Social Anxiety' is also tied in with our absolute inability to conduct small talk beyond "Hello, how are you?" Literally, that's me done, i spend the rest of the conversation nodding sagely, planning 567 escape routes from the conversation/the room/the building trying furiously to block out all the noise and focus on the conversation and also try to listen to the conversation going on 3 feet away because that's far more interesting AND running through my mental encyclopedia of small talk so as not to appear rude and trying not to yawn, or laugh inappropriately.

Or...

All of that, plus my brain desperately scans looking for something to spark a conversational piece, something we have info on locked inside our mind vaults of random information... A conversation with me might run like this:

NT: Hi, how are you?

ME (Oh my god they are looking at me!  Avoid eye contact, avoid eye contact! Do they really want to know how I am?  How do i answer this? Why are you talking to me? I'll say fine, that'll shut them up) I'm fine thanks!

NT: ...

ME ...

NT ...

ME (Oh it's my turn to ask! Oh look there's a cheese platter {BRAIN ENGAGES FILING INDEX} {SEARCHING} {SEARCHING} {SEARCHING} {FILE IDENTIFIED} {FILE OPENING} Cheese is bought by over 98% of British households. Cheese is a concentrated form of milk. It takes 10 litres of milk to make one kilogram of Cheddar. A small matchbox sized piece of Cheddar (30 grams) contains about 30% of the recommended daily calcium intake for adults; it also contains protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus and 10.5 grams of fat and 125 calories. We consume around 700,000 tonnes of cheese a year (including Cottage cheese and Fromage Frais) at home, in restaurants and in processed food. If you exclude Fromage Frais and Cottage Cheese it is about 600,000 tonnes - which is equivalent to about 10 kgs per person per year or 27.4 grams per person per day. Our European counterparts eat almost twice as much as much cheese per person per day as we do, mainly because European breakfasts often feature cheese. Cheddar is the UK’s favourite cheese, accounting for 55% of household purchases. There are around 700 named cheeses made in the UK. The second most popular cheese is Mozzarella – most of which is made in the UK. Cheese producers in the UK also make versions of Camembert and Brie. Coloured cheeses like Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and coloured Cheddar and Cheshire get their red colouring from Annatto, a natural flavourless vegetable extract from the seed of a South American tree. Some British cheeses have a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). West Country Farmhouse Cheddar can only be produced in the West Country (Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall) and Stilton can only be produced in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Cheese can be made from all sorts of milk – not only cows’ milk but also sheep, goat, buffalo and yak milks.) Do you like cheese...?

NT: *Looks at me strangely* Erm i guess...

ME: ({UNCONSCIOUS BRAIN SNIGGERS LIKE MUTTLEY} {CONSCIOUS BRAIN CRIES "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"}) Cheese is bought by over 98% of British households. Cheese is a concentrated form of milk. It takes 10 litres of milk to make one kilogram of Cheddar. A small matchbox sized piece of Cheddar (30 grams) contains about 30% of the recommended daily calcium intake for adults; it also contains protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus and 10.5 grams of fat and 125 calories. We consume around 700,000 tonnes of cheese a year (including Cottage cheese and Fromage Frais) at home, in restaurants and in processed food. If you exclude Fromage Frais and Cottage Cheese it is about 600,000 tonnes - which is equivalent to about 10 kgs per person per year or 27.4 grams per person per day. Our European counterparts eat almost twice as much as much cheese per person per day as we do, mainly because European breakfasts often feature cheese. Cheddar is the UK’s favourite cheese, accounting for 55% of household purchases. There are around 700 named cheeses made in the UK. The second most popular cheese is Mozzarella – most of which is made in the UK. Cheese producers in the UK also make versions of Camembert and Brie. Coloured cheeses like Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and coloured Cheddar and Cheshire get their red colouring from Annatto, a natural flavourless vegetable extract from the seed of a South American tree. Some British cheeses have a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). West Country Farmhouse Cheddar can only be produced in the West Country (Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall) and Stilton can only be produced in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Cheese can be made from all sorts of milk – not only cows’ milk but also sheep, goat, buffalo and yak milks.

NT: *Makes excuses and leaves*

Either a Genius, or might as well give up and go home

Seriously?

Autistic people, like everyone else can have high, low, intermediate or anywhere in between intelligence.  I know people deemed as 'Low Functioning' that are more intelligent than me (And more socially acceptable) and people deemed as 'High Functioning' that are social, emotional and intellectual dimwits.

Some of us can be Savants, but Savants are rare and not all Savants are Autistic.

Often people who non-verbal are seen to be lower in intelligence, when in fact the opposite is often true.  Some of the most amazingly literate Autistics are non-verbal, such as Naoki Higashida.

I mean, I freely admit that I am super-intelligent.  I've had to widen doorways in my house in order for me to get my giant brain and skull cavity through them...

Devoid of humour

Apparently, Autistic people have no sense of humour.  Well yeah, you're right, i am completely bereft of wit and am never, ever, ever sarcastic. Ever.

There is an element of truth in this.  The literal nature of our brains can sometimes struggle with jokes that aren't totally obvious.  Sometimes you find Autistic kids caught in feedback loops with jokes, because not only do they not understand why they are funny, they get caught up with the repetitive nature of them.  Often you'll find an Autistic child will repeat the same joke over and over, (sometimes for actual Eons), rendering it totally unfunny.  They'll then change something fundamental to the joke (the punchline for example) and repeat the same process.

Some Autistics can be devastatingly sarcastic (Obviously, I'm like, never sarcastic), but don't understand when other people use it. Some Autistics can't use sarcasm and can't understand it.

There will be an occasion (every day/sometimes hourly), when an Autistic will find something funny, or make a joke that nobody else understands.  I swear my comedy stylings are so unappreciated.

Autistics are not all Trainspotters, geeks or techno-geniuses.  To be fair, an inordinate proportion of us are (geeks and techno-geniuses i mean).  I am a huge geek, i love Science-Fiction, Science, computer games etc but i am absolutely useless when it comes to coding, or fixing computers.  I love the irony of Science fiction conventions made up of crowds of people that can't socialise and hate crowds.

Sometimes our passions outweigh our disabilities...

Only capable of being interested in one thing

Passions... Special Interests... SIs, call them what you will, but often something will spark an Autistics interest and the obsessive information gathering begins.  Our thirst for knowledge cannot be halted, we hyperfocus and dive in, immersing ourselves in the world of whatever random thing we've fixated on, to the detriment of everything else.

We're not all like that though.  If I have one over-riding special interest, it would be books.  I have thousands of them.  My loft literally buckles under the weight of them and nobody, on pain of death (ARE YOU WATCHING, MICHELLE?), is allowed to give them away. I love reading, but i don't do it obsessively (i used to).

Lacking in emotions/robots/cold/emotionally dead

Talking of passions, i'm going to talk about something that I've been avoiding in all honesty.  Emotions.  It's a huge and back-and-forth-argument-inducing-subject.  I'm not going to delve deeply in, suffice to say that yes, we feel (my god do we feel), we have emotions, some of us are incapable of showing them, some show them all too freely and have problems regulating them, many of us don't understand our own and can get angry and frustrated and melt down.  Many of us can't recognise other people's, beyond the very obvious and can need a bit of help navigating them.

One thing I will touch on though, is the empathy debate.  For a long time it's been commonly believed that Autistics (especially those with an old diagnosis of Asperger's) are incapable of empathy.  This is simply not true and far too basic an understanding of empathy.

There are two main different types of empathy: Cognitive and Affective.

Cognitive Empathy can be described as the largely conscious drive to recognise accurately and understand another's emotional state. Sometimes we call this kind of empathy: perspective taking.

Affective empathy or emotional empathy is when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. 

There is a third type often described which is Compassionate empathy.  This is like a merging of the Cognitive and Affective empathy and often a place where Autistics can fall down.  Compassionate empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world and can take the perspective of that person's viewpoint AND can apply both those types of empathy.  So people skilled in this tend to become Nurses, Doctors, and Carers etc. – and also can make intuitive parents.

Autistics can fall down with the Cognitive empathy part, quite often we are unable to see someone else's viewpoint until it has been described to us in a way we can understand. Older people with a diagnosis of Asperger's are often confused with those who have a diagnosis of Narcissistic Disorder/or whom have been mistakenly diagnosed with Asperger's.  A Narcissist has an understanding of Cognitive empathy, but just doesn't want to do anything with it, like they are unable to care. Whereas an older diagnosed person, may appear Narcissistic, but is unable to process Cognitive empathy.  It may seem an insignificant difference, but it is a significant difference.

Autistics can fall down with Affective empathy because often we have a surplus, a literal overdose of empathy in a given situation to the point where we can't cope, so we switch off or flee and appear un-empathetic.

Similarly, we can fall down with with Compassionate empathy, because we have this abundance of feelings for someone or somethings plight, only to not know how to direct it.

I feel this explains why Autistic people can often be hugely empathetic to animals, as their needs are often simpler and more easily understandable.  Equally we can be hugely emotionally attached to objects: objects have no need for empathy...

Dustin Hoffman

Autism isn't Rain Man. 

The film Rain Man has done so much for Autism awareness, whilst simultaneously creating the most damaging stereotype in the history of Autism.  What a mixed message.  It is an amazing film, but at the time of its release there was so much stigma attached to Autism.  Now the damaging stigma is the moment you tell someone you are Autistic, the first thing they say is:

Them: No, you're too xxxxxx to be Autistic!

Me: (Screaming internally) No, I really am Autistic

Them: Like that Dustin Hoffman film?

Me: (Dying inside) Sort of but not r...

Them: (Interrupting) I should take you to the Casino!

Me: (Dead)


Something to be cured

I assume if you've read my blog before, or even if you've got this far down this article, that you'll not be surprised in my steadfast belief that:

Autism is not something to be cured,

Or treated or fixed.

There is nothing wrong with us; we're just different to you.

There are no parasites in our bellies that bleach enemas will kill.

We don't need radio-therapy.
We don't need institutionalised.
We don't need electro-shock therapy.
We don't need clicker training like a dog.
We don't need drugs.
We don't need behavioural training to push us into suppressing our traits and hand us a script for scenarios.

What we need is understanding and acceptance, not therapies.

If you want to cure me, kindly learn or get off my blog and have a really good look over the edge of a super, crumbly cliff...

Something that was caused

Autism is not caused by vaccines.

In case you missed that:

Vaccines do not cause Autism.

Anyone that tells you otherwise is talking out of their arse.
Glad we cleared that up.

So I hope you have an idea now of what Autism isn't. I could have kept going eternally, but I thought I’d point a few of the obvious ones.

Needless to say, the fight for Acceptance for Autistic people goes on, I hope that even if just one person who reads this has their understanding of Autism increased a notch, and then the world is a better place.

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