As part of Disability Awareness Week, a Johnian has decided to defy stereotypes about autism.
1.People with autism do not want friends
I am often accused of enjoying my own company, with which I agree, and I feel uncomfortable in large groups of people. I have only been to two social events in my three years here and I have never been part of any societies. But, that’s not to say that I do not want friends – discussions with other people are stimulating.
The atmosphere in busy social situations makes me dizzy – I get sensory overload. I enjoy listening to a conversation, but I am clumsy when responding. Think of driving at a busy roundabout. Autism is like not knowing when to pull out or pulling out at the wrong time. Oh, and autistic people can drive!
2. People with autism are heartless, cold robots unable to perceive emotions.
I think that this stereotype comes from the fact that we do not express emotion much. But we do feel emotion and empathy – it upsets me to see people struggle and I want to do something to put it right. Plenty of neurotypical people do not have empathy and would not help anyone. I cannot see what is happening to some people with disabilities and sit around doing nothing. My coldness is like a variable resistor – if I like you, I can be very loyal and I’ll help you all I can. I am often accused of having a dry sense of humour!
3. You can be cured from autism, you can be normal if you tried.
No. Some person from the ‘neurotypical’ domain told me that ‘special needs are a disease and it’s rife’ and they say that I am the one with a lack of social skills! Was I not supposed to be sarcastic? There is no cure for ASC (Autism Spectrum Conditions), it is a lifelong developmental condition and it causes problems with studying, socialising and independent living. A lot of people do not know that it causes sensory issues, such as physical pains with bright lights and loud noises.
I am not sure that if a cure was invented that I would take it. I have never known any different from ASC. For me, it gives me some abilities such as deriving unique solutions to problems and the ability to focus, although I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a normal student life living in college going out and participating in societies.
4. People with autism are just like Sheldon Cooper
Here we go again! I utterly detest the Big Bang Theory – it is so unfunny that they have to insert laughter out of sympathy to the actors. We are not like Sheldon Cooper! He is portrayed as a rude unempathetic genius, which is extremely damaging. Although part of the condition is that we do not understand social conventions, the Big Bang Theory hyperbolises it in a vain attempt of humour. The stereotype of Sheldon Cooper (although they say he is not supposed to be autistic) has legitimised negative stereotypes of autism.
It is very damaging to assume that everyone with ASC is a superhuman genius. There are families with children who have ASC and they are really struggling. Many people with ASC are not geniuses, some people have learning difficulties. It is a spectrum condition and I would argue that it is not linear. Someone else with ASC could write a completely different article to this one.
5. In our old age, we will live single being surrounded by 100 cats.
I have an allergy to cats, and I do not like them. Who is coming up with this nonsense?
6. Autistic people are violent
I believe that this stereotype is trying to cast us as spoilt brats who smash up everything when we do not get what we want. But, that’s complete nonsense. I am not violent, I do not smash up anything. Some people at the more severe end of ASC become so overwhelmed by their environment that they cannot control themselves and lash out. That only happens in a small fraction of people with ASC. Yes, I become overwhelmed by my environment, but I never lash out.
7. Autism is not a real condition
My analogy of it: imagine that you have been parachuted into my home country, but you do not know where you are other than some rainy island in the Atlantic. No one will speak English to you and no signs are in English. So, you have to figure out what the language is to start learning it but imagine if you struggle to learn the language and the idioms. It is a real condition. Mental health conditions are common in people with ASC, as well as stomach problems.
8. We have no sense of right or wrong
I know exactly what’s right and wrong. There is a huge amount wrong with how people with disabilities are treated in this country and the worse that will happen to them is an ‘enquiry’ or ‘lessons learned’. I have a very rigid sense of right or wrong. I often think about these imperious people in power who are managers of organisations bullying families of special needs people; the fact that they are not sentenced to life imprisonment. If I were a judge…
9. You’re the victim of a vaccine gone wrong
No, that MMR vaccine scandal was engineered, as GCSE Biology teaches you. Do you honestly think that I would not sue someone if this was true?
Anything else you would like people to know?
Frankly, I have had enough of autism becoming a trending insult which is often directed towards people who have characteristics they do not like. I have also had enough of the stigma and discrimination. I have had people threaten to put me in a mental hospital, fight with me, deliberately exasperate my sensory issues, be verbally abusive… The list goes on and I am on antidepressants for it. But I am not a person who is going to take this abuse. The consequences for the offender were extremely serious.
Yes, I am autistic. What are you going to do about it?