Disability not inability: Misconceptions about autism

April is Autism Awareness Month and although we push for acceptance in the community, there are still many things people misunderstand about autism. I’ve enlisted the help of my two neurodivergent children to breakdown what they feel the biggest misconceptions are.

Autistic people don’t make eye contact – one of those true of some but not all. It totally depends on the sensory profile of the person and some enjoy eye contact, some can do it fleetingly and some lose eye contact when they feel overload coming.

Meltdowns or Overloads are aggressive and loud – not necessarily. When observing the siblings we see that disassociating and quiet are the first signs overload is going to happen and they recognise this themselves and ask to be removed from whatever is causing it. When Amber was much younger she would vocally stim and then become quiet way before an explosion happened and now she never explodes and neither does H. He experiences overload more frequently than his sister though and just because it’s not loud and aggressive doesn’t mean the impact is any less.

Autistic people don’t have friends – absolutely not! Amber and H are very different in these respects but they both have friends. H has a set friend group at college that he speaks to when he’s at home, whereas Amber prefers to keep her school friends at school and not cross over into homelife. Both are valid ways to friendship and both fulfil their social needs within their boundaries.

Autistic people can’t do drama – this misconception is based around the ‘not being able to put themselves in others shoes’ idea, but H smashes that theory as he’s excelling in college – Anthony Hopkins also smashes this idea into teeny tiny bits.

All Autistic people are geniuses – where there is a high percentage of autistic people who are geniuses and obviously so, this might not be the case for all. Or is it that some autistic people don’t always communicate in a way that is understandable to the majority so their talents are hidden? Amber has a massive capacity for memory where music is concerned and memorised every song in 60 odd albums in their position on the iPod (remember them!). Whereas H is a brilliant actor, both are highly skilled in these things but wouldn’t count as a genius.

Non verbal means doesn’t understand – Amber was non verbal until 5 years, but she carried out every instruction given to her. One time we always remember is at a parents evening she was wandering around the room and her teacher said she wanted the tail on her “g” to be under the line. When she got home she went in her room and wrote out a page full of ‘g’ as her teacher had requested without prompting from us. Trust us when we say they hear everything.

No eye contact means not listening – this is a biggie for us as teachers would often ‘work on Amber’s eye contact’ and it was repeatedly on her Individual Education Plan (IEP) despite us always requested it be removed. We put too much emphasis on this and it doesn’t really make sense. ‘Look at me when I’m talking to you’ has been a phrase removed from our house for years. Remember hearing is all about the ears not the eyes and eye contact is processed as painful for some neurodivergent people.

All Autistic people eat brown food – true for some but not for all. Amber’s diet is more varied than anyone in our house but H’s is extremely restricted because of his sensory.

Which leads us nicely on to …

They’ll eat when they’re hungry – we made this mistake and presumed H was fussy but that kid could hold off all day. Textures made him physically sick and we soon rectified our stance on what was a ‘healthy’ relationship with food.
It is not healthy to be made to feel sick for the sake of a vegetable.

During Autism Awareness month remember – platform Autistic Voices, campaign for us and keep learning!


This article was written by Christine Smart and Halen Wood.

Photo: TV’s Chris Packham campaigns for a better understanding of autism (Shutterstock)

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