Ten Positively Untrue Misconceptions about Having Autism
People who have autism live in a world limited by a severely narrow range in interests, finding it difficult or uncomfortable to explore other areas, even for the sake of socialization.
Sure, it sounds true. As a kid I used to believe it.. Adults constantly tried to convince me to listen when people spoke and to share conversation time the same way you’d share crayons, or Twinkies, or whatever. And at first it worked. I mean diving headlong into the entire Goosebumps series and the life of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson at the start of each conversation is a fine passage of life in third grade, but in fifth grade, the body starts to mutate, and all of a sudden you wake up and it matters a ton what girls, or boys, think. You see someone standing at her locker and suddenly for the first time in your life, leading with a list of little known facts about the Terminator movies doesn’t seem like such an air-tight strategy. So you start listening to all of these previously ignored, odious and terminally bland conversational details – Eminem, American Idol, alcohol yatta yatta – in hopes of finding in this sea of lusterless normal hoopla, one relatable thread with which to maintain her interest and reign the conversation in, back to one of your more well-rehearsed topics. So I strung along that way learning the art of minimalism and obsessive pre-screening of my comments.
There is, however one major flaw in the above strategy, which is a conclusion I arrived at after years of attempting to relate to people based on the weather, or the color of the menu board, or the mind-bucklingly irrelevant antics of some far-away teenage fame-bot who subsists on attention and strawberry vodka, which is this:
Assume, for a second, I was right before. What if, in reality, no one else knows how to hold conversations about things that matter? What if your potential new “friend” is just incapable of knowing the importance of Tesla’s life history? Sure, there are a few social strictures to keep in mind and which I may never get used to. For instance, I still have to pretend to find something really interesting about the speaker’s eyeballs for the duration of my encounters. And if I want company for longer than two minutes, I have to be “present.” Also, I’ve learned that whenever the sun rips a hole in the clouds for longer than an hour, there’s this unspoken rule that no public errand can get done, no iced coffee order completed until our yellow deity has been properly acknowledged.
But don’t let anyone tell you that you need to “branch out”. Let them be wrong about what’s interesting. Watching all of the major documentaries about Japanese macaques is a perfectly fulfilling use of time as far as anyone else is concerned.
Lots of people with Asperger’s have, like, mental super powers, don’t they? Does the autistic guy in your life stare into space a lot? He’s probably figuring out an equation for the exact shape of your head or something.
We are so misunderstood. Just because everyone has seen Rain Man and that one Sean Penn movie, everyone’s an expert on the link between savant abilities and individuals with higher-functioning autism. During a routine hospital visit, I once had a physician ask me what my “special talent” was. I shrugged and told her I remember the shoe sizes of all of my classmates stretching back to first grade. Or that’s what I felt like saying. I think I just made some generic comment about doing well in school. Sure, were it not for my Asperger’s, I wouldn’t have the same fascination with languages that allows me to remain fluent in Spanish although I haven’t taken a formal class or had daily practice in seven years. And ok, I wouldn’t have the knack for imitation that lets me vocally impersonate a pantheon of television and movie characters. I certainly wouldn’t have been writing free verse poems about the emotional quality of rain at age four.
But why should this random doctor have to know? We’re not all like that. That’s the lesson here, damn it. Weigh me, check me for asthma, and let me get back to being awkward and mysterious.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to be very routine oriented and become upset, potentially losing their ability to function when confronted with obstacles to or changes in this routine.
Is it reasonable to assume I won’t be able to get through the rest of my morning if I can’t have my two double-bagged cups of green tea in front of the local news at exactly nine in the morning? Or that I can’t make it through the train ride to a job interview without running the full gamut of curse words when it becomes clear I won’t arrive with the requisite 25 minutes to spare? Hmm. Mightn’t it be more plausible that I’ve just always had an advanced sense of time or that only I understood the structural fragility of any given day’s schedule?
Oh wait fuck, this one’s kind of true.
Not sure if I should be worried about that guy sitting by himself in the food court with the Gameboy talking to himself…
Does what the gentleman is saying sound rehearsed or pre-recorded? Does the conversation have its own logic and syntax and include maniacal laughter? Are unwarranted smiles involved – perhaps some clapping?
These are tell-tale signs of a malignant neuro-viral eruption during which tiny Asperger’s microbes are emitted through the pores, screams and occasionally farts, of the infected and over-stimulated Aspie. The Autism virus is highly contagious. Cover your children at all costs. Abandon your belongings if need be. Symptoms of the Autism virus include immediate onset of social-pariahitis, an inability to relate to anything except maybe 80s sci-fi series, and the tendency to maliciously attack shirt tags and nylon windbreakers.
People on the spectrum are kinda vain.
It’s my argument here that mirrors are just insistent upon themselves. So are toasters. And car windows. And outdoor mirrors that turn out to be restaurant windows with six-year-olds effortlessly mimicking your flaunts and grimaces.
Though if we come across as vain, we can hardly be blamed. It’s too true that some of us don’t have a fashion sense that goes beyond New Balance sneakers and 100% cotton undershirts and maybe an outdated Blink 182 wristband, and that we share the ability to turn any borderline-manageable public interaction into a cringe-fest of epic proportions. So considering our abilities stand out, might any perceived vanity be seen as a necessary abutment, some sense of protection for our towering and lanky abilities against the vast ghetto of our deficits?
People with autism can’t empathize.
This is one that particularly offends me. Watch me shoot this down, ok?
1)If I had such a deficit in feeling empathy, how would I have figured out in a few short weeks that my cats’ favorite game isn’t “run from the vacuum?”
2) How would I have discerned, with near mind-reader-like ability, that showing up two hours early, stuffing down the entirety of the cheese platter and guzzling three liters of rootbeer before the big game had mildly irritated my friend?
3)How would I have learned, after only six years school years, that staring at girls but not speaking to them made them feel uneasy and maybe a touch of trepidation?
4) I am clearly a master feeler of feelings and considerer of considerations.
5) Ok so I had to work at this one a bit. But Aspies aren’t androids, and on a serious note, because so many of us have worked for so long on exactly this empathy, there’s a good chance that the Aspie in your life is more empathetic than you.
Autistic People are off in their own worlds.
Also not true. The inner worlds “specific” to people with autism spectrum disorders have a certain “gravitational pull” if you will, that leaves others with no choice other than to grab their nose and take the plunge. Growing up, I dragged my sister into a Batman/Kung Fu universe for several hours a day.
I mean, just look at Tim and Eric Awesome Show, or Adventure Time, Mr. Pickles, or even Monty Python. These bizarre universes clearly originated as highly self-referential inner autistic realms complete with their own sets of mis-wired connections and associations. The general theory goes that none of these shows would make any sense outside of the mind of a highly Aspergian or Autistic mind. Researchers are still unsure as to the nature of the mechanisms by which the inner world has grown, but are nonetheless convinced that a phenomenon is occurring whereby otherwise neuro-normative individuals are being subsumed into an autistic space. So yeah, avoid Adult Swim at all costs.
People with Asperger’s aren’t cuddly.
Many have referred to a certain rigidity with which those of us on the spectrum carry ourselves: wandering consistently into others’ personal space bubbles without so much as a flinch, lurching into bookshelves with all of the unharnessed force of an intoxicated moose calf, chillin’ at the lunch table with three milks, two sandwiches, four napkins, and a bolt-upright posture. Herein, I believe, lies the misconception that people with autism aren’t good cuddlers. I mean, it could also have something to do with the 10,000 yard stare with which Kevin greets the rest of his classroom. I get it. When you think of snuggly, you picture someone sexy on an overbleached pillowtop mattress wrestling playfully with a herd of appropriately tranquilized bunnies. You don’t, I’m guessing, think of computer club girl with the baggy pants and the choke collars and the yeah. Why not?
The coldness often sensed from people from the Asperger’s planet is most often not the affected, Eastern-European, don’t-fuck-with-me-there-are-witches-in-my-family variety, but the coldness of space. Being a disorder characterized by the stilted social interactions and fruitless contemplation of socializing, the distance driven between people on the spectrum and those on the outside peering in is steadily deepening. One has only to try and transcend that space to behold that cuddliness in all of its rigid glory.
I remember in fifth grade, a girl ran up to me, threw her arms around me and squeezed. After weeks of tentative interaction, this had come pretty solidly out of nowhere. And yet here we both were, her arms clasped around my back, mine still fumbling painfully with the hems of my shorts, before she peeled off into the sheltering anonymity of the classroom. The theory that a hug might be better when returned was slow-surfacing.
It was the last unreturned hug for me, but plenty out there enjoy their hugs like a punching bag in an orangutan-squeeze.
And besides, our tendency as a group to choose Game of Thrones themed picnics or stay at home and memorize the seventh Harry Potter book in front of a platter of high calorie and sensory-friendly food, makes us quite the crowd of potential cuddle-bugs indeed.
People with HFA/Asperger’s love school.
False. We do well in school. Sometimes. We hate it as much as anyone else. If we can stay awake through the same chemistry and North American History material we read four years ago on our smartphones out of boredom while everyone else was finishing their algebra test, there’s all that other awkward bit that happens when you take off your earphones to pay the lunch lady and you want to be appropriate so you congratulate a friend on her new shoe-laces only to notice they’re new sneakers entirely and her friends were around and how could you ever live down this error?
People with autism don’t understand sarcasm.
No, what we don’t understand is why the majority of the population, in order simply to make it through the day without imploding under the weight of their supposedly hilarious dissatisfaction, has to litter the world with bitter, disingenuous quips. That these too often get past security and are processed by literal brain is inevitable. Even so, some of us have studied sarcasm long enough to recognize it (probably too late to avoid embarrassment, but we recognize it). Sometimes it just takes a moment to process and we stand there appearing to malfunction but really we’re filing it away along with all the others so that we can someday take revenge in the form of a chronological and lengthy, sarcasm-dripping blog post. #howdoesitfeel