Yesterday, I came across a discussion on my Facebook news feed about Autism. Though I know I should know better, I started reading through the comments. If you're an Autism parent, you may have had this same experience in the past- anytime there is an article written that has anything to do with Autism, the ignorant comments come out. The comments on this particular post that caught my attention were those stating that Autism was not real (or was over diagnosed) as an excuse to not discipline children with behavior problems...basically saying that it was not a real diagnosis, but an excuse for poor parenting. What!? How is this type of thinking still existent today!? We've gotten the dirty looks, rude comments and even strangers yelling at my sweet boy from people who seemed to agree with that same thought. Perhaps not to that extreme, but at least who believed he was just a 'bad kid'.
How absolutely frustrating!
How are we supposed to get our children the respect and understanding they deserve, if people don't understand that Autism is for real!? The fact is, an Autism diagnosis is not given based solely on behavior issues. There are many factors that are looked at and qualifications that have to be met before receiving that diagnosis. It's a long and often difficult process. Behavior issues are only part of it! There are also sensory issues, speech delays, social delays, etc. Autism is so complex, and I truly think that most still do not even realize this. So today, I want to share with you a few common misconceptions about Autism, based on the discussion I mentioned above, and other things we commonly hear. My hope is that by sharing some of these things, at least one person will walk away from this post with a little more understanding.
Individuals with Autism are dumb.
This is one that gets to me the most, because I truly believe my son is a genius. I cannot tell you how many times we have heard the statement, "But he's so smart!" Yes, he is. So were Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Michelangelo, and Mozart. All have been speculated to have been somewhere on the spectrum! Autism does not equal dumb, it just means their mind works differently than what yours or mine does. Even those children who may never speak, I still do not believe that they are stupid either, we are just unable to see how their mind works. Let's take a look at my son personally. Shaun taught himself to sight read at just 2 years old. He learned to read full sentences before he even spoke in them (it was reading them that helped him build his communication in my opinion). At just five years old, without having really been taught, he is reading at we believe around a third grade reading level. He has a memory that is beyond astounding. I'm in constant awe of the things I see him come up with. He has recently developed an obsession with production companies, and you can ask him who makes any movie and 9 times out of 10, he can tell you correctly which production company it's from (Universal, Paramount, etc). We don't know how he knows all of this, but there is no denying that he is incredibly smart, and has Autism.
People with Autism are anti-social.
Not exactly. Some may be (though some without Autism may be anti-social as well!), but social delays do not necessarily mean anti-social. Again, we'll look at my son for an example of what I mean. He loves people. He loves other kids. He simply does not always understand how to act appropriate in social situations, and has to work harder to learn what comes a bit more naturally to some of us. (Have you ever watched Big Bang Theory- think of Sheldon's lack of knowledge on what it socially acceptable to give you an idea of what that might look like for some.)
People with Autism look 'different'.
I'm never sure how to take it when someone makes the statement, 'Well, he looks normal.' Unlike with some conditions, a child with Autism does not look any different than a child without. I'm not really sure what these people think a person is supposed to look like, but there is no 'look of Autism'.
Children with Autism just need to be spanked/more discipline.
That kind of goes with the original reasoning behind this posting, but the truth is you can't discipline the Autism out of your child. In fact, typical discipline that may work well with a typically developing child, might have no effect whatsoever on a child on the spectrum. I'm not saying you can't discipline a child with Autism, but you sometimes have to think a little outside the box!
Autism is caused by vaccines...and only vaccines.
I say this one because I was actually accused of being in denial when I stated that I believed that in my son's specific case, I don't believe the vaccines were the cause. However, I have also always stated that I do believe in some children, they can potentially trigger something that was already there. I know people personally who have seen their child regress immediately after vaccines. I respect both opinions on the matter, and believe both to have some points of truth to them, but I do not however believe that we can lump all kids together and say this is the one and only possible cause. For some, yes, but for my son (and many others), not at all. And I will share what I posted on my personal Facebook page on the topic, which is: "Personally, I feel regardless of what caused Autism for ANY child, pointing fingers and placing blame does absolutely no good for those already affected. Instead of putting our focus there, why can't everyone use that same energy to fight together for awareness and to provide our children with the support, understanding and services they need. Seems like a much more productive idea to me!"
You should not get your child evaluated for Autism, because they will have that label the rest of their lives.
If your child truly has Autism, your child will have Autism the rest of their life, regardless of if they have the official diagnosis or not. The difference being, those who have that 'label' are now given the services they NEED. I cannot begin to express the important of early intervention and therapy. When I think of where my son was before receiving therapies, and where he is now...the difference is astounding, I cannot imagine having waited and missing out on those valuable therapy hours. Instead of worrying about your child being labeled, wouldn't you rather give him/her the best possible future!? That's what a diagnosis can do! It seriously breaks my heart when I hear people say they know people who refused to have their child evaluated for this reason.
A diagnosis of Autism means there is no future for a child.
Absolutely not true. Of course, we don't know what the future holds. Some children will grow up and never be able to live on their own, while others can have careers, families and do everything a typical peer would. Honestly, that's where that therapy comes in! There are plenty of amazing individuals, with amazing careers and lives who also happen to have Autism...think Temple Grandin! Autism is not a death sentence. It does mean we as parents may have to fight harder for our children, and that our children will have to work harder than their peers, but that does not mean they cannot do amazing things with their lives.
These are just a few, I'm sure there are many more I'm not thinking of right now. All these common misconceptions are why I fight so hard to raise awareness from my son. The numbers are growing, and yet there is still so little understood on the topic. Again, if I can reach just one person and give them a little more knowledge on the subject, I will feel as though I have accomplished something.