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3 Myths of Autism explored

Posted by hoi.barbara1@gmail.com on April 5, 2012 at 3:40 AM

INTERNATIONAL AUTISM AWARENESS DAY

On Monday, April 2, was International Autism Awareness Day. From the sails of the Sydney Opera House, to the Great Buddha at Kobi in Japan and the the Empire State Building , some of the greatest landmarks around theworld were lit up in blue to mark this day.

Currently 220,000 Australians,  1 in 100, are diagnosed as Autistic.

My aim is to challenge common assumptions about Autism and shed a new light on them, to shift your perspective to Awareness, Knowledge and Acceptance.

1.      Unfortunately, one of the most common assumptions is, that Autistic people are brain-damaged, or have a lower intelligence than the average person. THIS IS NOT TRUE! Neither is it true, that most Autistic people show ‘Savant’-Traits like ‘the Rainman’ from the movie, abilities such as amazing mathematical, musical or artistic gifts. In fact, only about 2 % of the Autistic population has the ‘Savant’-label added. Because Autistic individuals often have trouble expression themselves, they are being labelled as having a lower IQ than others. However, when given the tools to orient themselves to their environment, they begin to show their true intelligence and can think in ways well beyond the average person.

Autism causes a failure of the senses to fully perceive, understand and integrate information from people or objects in the environment. In essence, Autistic people are in a disoriented state most of the time. What does it mean to be disoriented?

Most people experience states of disorientation from time to time:  our mind and with it our senses seem to split from our body, when we are overly stressed, in pain, tired, confused or frustrated. Have you ever noticed that sometimes people speak to you, and only a small part of you is actually listening, while your mind is somewhere else completely. We may give vague answers, or forget most of what we were told. Now multiply the stress or overwhelm that caused you to disorient by 1000 and see how much of what is actually said will be taken in.

So why multiply stress by 1000? Everything in the environment of an Autistic individual can overstimulate their senses, as they are not aligned to their body. There is too much smell, too much sound, too much feeling…

You cannot truly measure a person’s IQ when they are not present in their body. Without the mind present there is no personality, no individuality, no identity. Ron Davis told us that his IQ was measured below 50, before he had found a way of becoming ‘individuated’ and experienced a true sense of ‘self’, after which his IQ was re-tested at 137.

 

2.      The second perception is that Autistic people want to be alone, can’t empathize with others and have no feelings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Autistic people do have trouble making or keeping friends, but mostly they yearn to be part of a group, to be invited, included and have at least ONE real friend. In fact, making a friend is the greatest factor of motivation when working with an Autistic person.

Perhaps most saddening is the myth, that if someone is Autistic and not very good at speaking, that they don’t have feelings and can’t hear, when people talk about them. In fact, their hearing is TOO good. Having the ‘mind’s ear’ nowhere near the body means that it can travel to wherever the noises are coming from and cause huge frustration and anxiety when there are too many noises present from too many different regions in the environment. The toilet flushing next door might sound like a tsunami, the lawn mower just outside unbearable, and as intolerable as screeching children or the horns of cars.  With social interactions mainly happening in groups, schoolyards, in restaurants or at parties, you can imagine the conflict this causes for Autistic youth when faced with the prospect of making a friend.

The disorientation I mentioned before is experienced in different ways by different individuals, but invariably leads to a failure to develop appropriate executive functioning and social skills. This affects their communication, basic social interactions, understanding unwritten rules and developing friendships/relationships.

People on the AS (Autistic Spectrum) are highly sensitive and as such pick up emotions from their environment, which may lead to such an overload of energy, that this results in ways of expelling this excess, by twirling, swinging, flapping,rocking, stimming… All these behaviours aren’t exactly socially acceptable, nor does an environment filled with such stimuli help the Autistic individual to cope.

What I have found very helpful is to completely empty  my mind and my emotional landscape before I meet with these amazing beings.

 

3.      The third myth is that Autistic children are badly behaved…and if only parents would discipline them properly. That is a huge misperception.

With senses not perceiving the environment accurately, life is very confusing. Sounds and lights are overwhelming, any change provokes anxiety, labels on clothes may feel so rough that they simply cannot be tolerated, sometimes just being forced to look a teacher in the eye, can be experienced as extremely painful. Life for these families is very unpredictable, as the levels of sensitivities and behaviours change from day to day, meltdowns and socially inappropriate behaviour is only another unknown incident away. These children have no control over their own disorientation, they don’t experience life the way we do. They feel things more than us and I don’t know if I’d last one day on such sensory overload.

 

How would you feel about having one of these ‘blue’ days?

I leave you with a quote from an Autistic adult, that sums up my talk beautifully:

“ I hate looking stupid…it’s the one thing I am not.

I hate having something to say, but no-one is listening, as I can’t get it out.

I hate feeling like walking in sand – without leaving footprints,

Without the feeling of having been here at all.”

 

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