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Misconceptions about Autism

Many autistic adults wish that their allistic (not autistic) counterparts would make as much effort as they do to understand who they really are. In order to assist in that endeavor, let's review the typical misconceptions many people have about autism and autistic individuals.

Fallacy #1 - Only Children are Autistic

You do not grow out of autism. An autistic child becomes an autistic teen who grows into an autistic adult.

You also do not grow out of a need for appropriate supports and genuine understanding. Examples:

a. Opportunities for connection and meaningful relationships.

b. Access to fulfilling, purposeful employment opportunities that match with your strengths and interests and the removal of obstacles in your path.

c. Customized support that addresses your very specific needs and challenges and access to resources such as autism- and trauma-informed therapy, neurodivergent support groups, job coach, accomodations at work/school, an autism-informed life coach, and whatever other resources you know will aid in you experiencing your best life!

d. Self acceptance. By appreciating who you are, right here and now, and taming the "itty bitty shitty committee" that exists in your brain, you can begin your journey toward love and acceptance. How you talk to yourself and how you see yourself matters. The right therapist or coach can help you on your path toward self-love and acceptance.

e. A supportive network - which is the #1 indicator of a successful neurodivergent adult's life. You are the manager of your own life. The building of your village makes all the difference. For some people, it is purely their family who offers support, guidance, and love. I recommend casting a wider net. Here are some suggestions to consider: therapist, life coach, psychiatrist, physician, teacher, administrator, employer, friends, school counselor, neurodivergent / autism support group, autistic peers, online communities, and disability service agencies.

Again, we do not grow out of autism or our need for support and accomodations. With these in place, we can have a wonderful adult life.

Fallacy #2 - Autistic folks lack empathy

Actually, communication challenges and misunderstandings between autistic and allistic (non-autistic) individuals are caused by everyone's difficulty in understanding the other. Damian Milton proposes that there is a "double empathy problem," not a weakness with autistics.

Autistic people communicate differently than allistic individuals. Dr. Milton (and I) do not believe there is a deficit. Instead, autistic adults often communicate very easily with other autistic adults. Allistic adults also communicate reasonably well with one another. The challenge lies when an allistic individual and an autistic individual try to understand and empathize with one another. They communicate differently, not incorrectly.

Dr. Milton's theory suggests that "there is a mismatch between two people that can lead to faulty communication...The greater the disconnect, the more difficult the two people will have interacting. The problem is mutual."(read more here ) Both parties have trouble understanding each other.

This theory suggests that non-autistic people have blind spots that contritute to the communication gap. One large gap is that both non-autistic and autistic people often misunderstand each other's facial expressions. Allistic folks may believe that their autistic counterpart is lacking in empathy because they don't appear to be empathetic. Autistic individuals often have the same challenge in understanding their allistic peers' facial expressions and body language. Again, no one is "incorrect;" they are just communicated differently.

While autistic and allistic adults may communicate differently, almost all human beings (both autistic and allistic!) have empathy and feel deeply.

Fallacy #3 - All autistic individuals have savant abilities

While there is a greater chance of savant potential among autistic individuals, only about 10 % actually have those abilities. Each autistic person's skills and strengths vary widely.

Fallacy #4 -Autistic individuals cannot form meaningful relationships

Autistic individuals can and do form deep emotional connections with their family, friends, and partners. You will express and experience connection in unique ways, deprending on your sensory sensitivities, preferences, and strengths.

Much like we discussed in Fallacy #2, in an autistic/allistic relationship, there may be challenges in understanding each other's love languages.

With time and patience, you and your loved one can learn how to demonstrate mutually-satisfying support and affection. Welcoming each other's differences as well as your similiarities can lead to very deep, healthy connections.

While many autistic adults lead meaningful, enjoyable lives, others feel misunderstood, unaccepted, and lonely. Members of the allistic community can bridge the gap by learning more about autism and their autistic family members, friends, or co-worker's life experiences.

While readings like this one or research can help, the best way to learn is to ask and listen. Learn someone's personal story and consider what they share with you as you interact with others in your life. There is beauty in our differences and in being understood.

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