It felt good, sitting amongst well-dressed and well-heeled women, answering questions about autism. “You mean to say your students can bake independently?” “Yes they can,” I smiled.
“But I thought people with autism don’t understand much?” “Oh yes! They understand a lot more than we give them credit for.”
“Your son can’t have painted this on his own. You must have chosen the colours for him.” “My son is an artist. Not me. I don’t help him choose colours!” I said, trying hard to stop myself from rolling my eyes.
There are many misconceptions surrounding autism. Since we just passed World Autism Awareness Day, let me allay some of your doubts.
A. Autism is not a disease. It’s a differently wired brain.
People with autism process information differently. They are different, and not disabled. As parents and guides, we should figure out their learning style, and teach them accordingly.
Do you think a different brain is different, or do you think it’s disabled?
B. Autistic people have massive potential
There is hope for every person on the Autism Spectrum. They can achieve everything which others can, as long as they are surrounded by people who believe in them.
Will you believe in people with autism from today?
C. They understand what you say
Don’t get carried away by odd movements, or self-stimulatory behaviours. Some may not “talk”, but they hear you. They take in everything you say. It’s disrespectful to talk in their presence as if they don’t exist. Can you give autistic individuals the respect they deserve?
D. They are sensitive, and have sensory difficulties
They can hear sounds you and I cannot. This is why they feel overwhelmed in crowds. Many don’t like being touched. They are sensitive, and have some sensory difficulties. Can you respect (and accommodate) this trait about them?
E. Each person with autism is different
Over my 25 years of working with people with autism, I haven’t met any two who are exactly alike. Some talk a lot, others are non-vocal. Some are hyperactive, others are passive. Some are over-anxious, while others are calm. Can you appreciate their uniqueness?
F. They are NOT badly raised
If you see an autistic child having a tough time at a store, a supermarket, or a park, he’s not acting up. He is not badly behaved, or badly raised. In fact, it’s the opposite. He’s having a tough time.
Give the mother space, instead of judging her or offering suggestions. Can you look beneath the surface of their bad behaviour?
G. They have the same dreams as you
Each person with autism wants to feel competent and successful. He wants to have friends and feel accepted. Every parent of a child with autism wants her child to:
- Live life as independently as possible.
- Hold down a meaningful job or have a successful career.
- Enjoy meaningful relationships or friendships.
We want our children to enjoy a good quality life.
Can you hep people with autism follow their dreams?
H. Many of them are hugely talented
Have you heard of savant skills in autism? It’s true. Some are artists, musicians, or software engineers. They have brilliant minds. Can you encourage their talents so that they can flourish?
I. Every person on the spectrum doesn’t look ‘disabled’
I had a conversation with a delightful 30-year-young man a few days ago. If you saw him, you wouldn’t believe he was autistic.
But he is. He encounters challenges in social behavior, finds it difficult to accept another person’s perspective, and hold a job. Relationships are problematic for him.
25 years ago, when my son was diagnosed with autism, my world came tumbling down. But life is a great teacher. After years of intensive study, I realized that autism is not a disease to be gotten rid of.
Autistic people are unique, and they process information differently. They are different, but not less in any way. As parents of autistic individuals, we learn to accept our kids. We also hope for kindness from society. We don’t want our kids to be mocked at, stared at, or laughed at.
Can you make this world be a better place for them? On this day, World Autism Awareness Day, can you stand up for our kids and support them?
“Do not fear people with Autism, embrace them. Do not spite people with Autism, unite them. Do not deny people with Autism, accept them, for then their abilities will shine.” – Paul Isaacs