Dispelling the myths about autism

Debunking autistic myths

You may have various ideas about what autism is; from books you’ve read, anecdotes from friends or the media more generally. A lot of this is skewed, factually incorrect – or more so, missing the point that autism is a spectrum disorder. This means that everyone presents differently, with their own strengths and challenges. The saying goes: if you’re met one autistic person… you’ve met one autistic person!

If you’re due to manage an autistic employee, then this blog is designed to test some of the preconceptions you may have picked up and to readdress these

This blog isn’t perfect, as you may find that someone displays some of these traits, or none. But hopefully you’ll come from a more considered ‘individual difference’ standpoint, as opposed to a ‘it’s because this person is autistic’ mindset.

Autism is a mental illness

Autism on its own is not a mental health condition or illness, it’s a developmental difference. However, many autistic people may experience a comorbidity with disorders such as anxiety and depression, and we’re certainly more susceptible to these conditions compared with the general population. Autistic people may also struggle due to being overwhelmed which can come from issues around sensory sensitivity or difficulties in social interactions. This may lead to meltdowns and stress, which can then affect how someone is doing and feeling mentally. It all interplays and has knock-on effects, which illustrates some of the wider issues that autistic people come up against day-to-day.

We are all geniuses

We are most certainly not! Yes, there will be some autistic people who have an insatiable appetite for reciting the phone book or other such amazing memory feats – but this really isn’t the norm. We may have our specific strengths, be it the ability to problem-solve, to be hyper-focused, or to think outside the box. We have a unique perspective that sets us apart, so to speak, and we see and perceive the world differently. Yet we can also struggle to understand the world around us and what’s going on in it.

It’s important to not put false expectations on the autistic person or to put them on a pedestal. This will only cause unnecessary stress and pressure, as well as singling someone out. None of which is fair or helpful.

We can’t make eye contact

I used to be terrible at this as a kid (I used to stare non-stop at people), but have learned over time to minimise this and to alternate between making eye contact, and not. I’d say I’m pretty good at it now. This has come through practise and mimicking: copying from those around me and from TV. A lot of women tend to be better at eye contact than men. But my point is that being autistic doesn’t mean you can’t make good eye contact – nor should it be a sign that someone is not autistic/less affected because they can maintain eye contact! I