When people think of Autism Spectrum Disorders, they typically associate it with their idea of what they believe it is. Maybe they knew one person on the spectrum, and because of that, they just assume that every individual diagnosed with ASD is the same way. Or perhaps their only reference point is the way individuals with Autism are depicted in movies and television. Regardless of where or why these generalizations exist, these Autism stereotypes are often stigmatizing and can be detrimental to individuals within the community.
I don’t believe that these generalizations are rooted in malice, but that is why we must rewrite the narrative of these misconceptions surrounding Autism.
Autism Stereotypes & Misconceptions
Generally speaking, stereotypes are typically the result of the general misconceptions surrounding an entire group of people (race, age, gender, etc.) These stereotypes can also be based on what people have seen portrayed on TV or in the media.
The CDC defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. The diagnosis is an umbrella term to describe a wide range of disorders and behaviors that can affect people differently. It’s important to remember that some of these misconceptions are based on actual symptoms of certain levels of ASD. Still, the main takeaway is not to categorize or assume that all individuals with ASD have particular behaviors.
Below are some of the most common Autism stereotypes that have been debunked:
- Thinking that All Individuals With Autism Are Obsessive
One of the signs that a child might be on the spectrum does involve hyperfocused behavior and intense interests, but to suggest that every individual with ASD is obsessive about their interests is simply not true.
- Associating Autism with Savantism
People often associate savantism with Autism, but many complexities come from an ASD diagnosis which is why symptoms and behaviors present themselves very differently in each person. People use various terms to describe levels of functionality, but it can also be stigmatizing to assume an individual level of intelligence based on a diagnosis.
Now that is not to say that there’s not a connection between the two, but it’s important to understand that not every person with Autism is a savant. This stereotype is likely the result of movies like Rain Man or Good Will Hunting or popular television characters like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or Abed from Community which all associate Autism with extraordinary, genius-like traits.
- Thinking that People With Autism Look A Certain Way
Thinking that people with Autism look a particular way is a stereotype that can be highly problematic. Autism does not impact a person’s physical appearance, so we mustn’t assume someone’s diagnosis based on how they look...or vice versa.
- Thinking That Everyone With Autism Has Aggression
Assuming that every individual diagnosed with ASD has aggressive behaviors is exceptionally harmful to the community. This autism stereotype stems from the fact that some individuals with Autism do experience outbursts or meltdowns. Still, such reactions are typically the result of a trigger such as sensory overload, anxiety and stress, frustration due to differences in communication, and bullying.
- Thinking That Individuals With ASD Cannot Live On Their Own
Remember that Autism is a spectrum disorder, so there are various levels of severity that will have different effects on each individual. If an individual has a rarer diagnosis of ASD (level 3), they most likely will need continued support and care for the rest of their lives. However, this level of severity is rare and does not apply to all individuals with ASD.
- Thinking That Autism Effects Empathy
A common symptom associated with ASD that is true for some individuals is that they can have trouble understanding social cues for interaction and communication. Again, this is not the case for every person, but because of this symptom, people tend to associate it with a lack of empathy, and this is simply not true. An Autism diagnosis does not affect a person’s capacity to feel things.
The issue with these Autism stereotypes affects the entire community and that is why we must make an effort to dispel them. Being diagnosed with ASD does not define an individual, so we must make efforts to understand Autism further. We can all do our part by speaking against these stereotypes when we see or hear of them. Let’s work together to help spread awareness and inclusivity surrounding Autism.