This week is World Autism Awareness Week. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects over 1 in 100 people in the UK.
Autism affects how a person communicates and relates with others, which can make socialising difficult. Other characteristics of autism include taking things literally, struggling to interpret facial expressions and tone of voice, and a fondness for routines and structure. Some people with autism will also have learning disabilities, but others won’t.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) means that not everyone experiences autism in the same way, as there are different levels and types along a spectrum.
Polls suggest that 87% of people affected by autism think the general public has a bad understanding of the condition. The National Autistic Society (NAS) and many other organisations and charities attempt to change this each year, and raise awareness of autism and what it means to live with it.
There are still a lot of myths about autism, caused in part by media and popular culture. For example the film ‘Rain Main’, in which Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic character with extraordinary abilities with things like memory, counting and calculating. This leads on to the first myth about autism:
Myth: Everyone with autism is a ‘genius’ or has ‘savant’ skills
‘Savant syndrome’ is the name now given to characteristics such as those shown in Rain Main, where someone demonstrates exceptional skills and abilities. Some people with autism do have these abilities, such as Stephen Wiltshire, who can draw an accurate and detailed landscape of a city after seeing it only once. However they are quite rare – only about 1 or 2 in 200 of the autistic population are thought to have savant syndrome.
Myth: Only males can have autism
Autism is 4 times more common in men than women, but women and girls can still have autism. There is research to suggest that females may be less likely than males to receive a diagnosis of autism, even when presenting the same symptoms. It is thought that some autistic symptoms may be missed in girls, as they are more likely to copy the social behaviour of others and autistic behaviour may therefore be masked. There is work being done to raise awareness of autism in girls and to explore the differences in autistic characteristics between boys and girls.
Myth: Autism is only found in children
Wrong. While autism is often diagnosed in childhood and early diagnosis is encouraged, it is not something that you can ‘cure’ or grow out of. Autism and autistic symptoms therefore remain throughout your adult life. Some symptoms can lessen over time, but this does not happen very often. When adults are diagnosed with autism later on in life, it is often a huge relief to understand why they have always felt different or struggled with certain things.
Myth: Autistic people struggle with relationships and prefer to be alone
Not true. People with autism can struggle with social skills, and this can often be mistaken for a lack of interest in making friends. But a survey from NAS in 2012 shows that 65% of people with autism would like to have more friends. People with autism have different interests and preferences around socialising, just like anyone else.
Myth: Autism is a mental illness or intellectual disability
Wrong. Research from NAS suggests that 28% of the public think autism is a mental health condition. A lot of people also think autism affects how intelligent you are. This isn’t true. Some people with autism have learning difficulties or disabilities, and some don’t. And although mental illness is fairly common among people with autism, the condition itself doesn’t affect your emotions or mental health.
Myth: People with autism can’t work or go to a normal school
Not true. Most children with autism go to a mainstream school, and others go to a special educational needs school with more support. It varies depending on where you fit on the autistic spectrum, but many children with autism can do very well at mainstream schools. People with autism can also work if they want to, they just might require some support, as might their employer to learn how to support them in the right way.
Watch this YouTube video to learn more about autism and how it affects people: www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4G0HTIUBlI
To read more about it, have a look at the National Autistic Society website.
Image from www.autismspeaks.org
Originally written by myself for Dancing Giraffe