Currently the most visible way in which autism contributes to the economy is by providing a substrate from which a growing autism industry can extract profit.
What CAN be misunderstood WILL be misunderstood. Unless you are autistic there is no difference between “cure” and cure. Sadly, there is no shortage of “autism professional advice” and “cures” that amount to a sarcophagus for autistic individuals. The result is a bullet proof technique for creating mental health problems and selling further “treatments”. The first step towards progress could not be simpler:
Let the set of cures remain empty, and reduce the set of “cures” to the empty set.
To identify the “cures” it is important to understand the myths that are still perpetuated by the autism industry or by individual “autism professionals”.
Myth 1: Autists lack empathy
Reality: There is a double empathy challenge.
It is not only the autistic person who struggles to read the intentions and motivations of non-autistic people, but the same can also be said in reverse.
Myth 2: Autists are bad at teamwork
One of the persistent negative stereotypes is that we are poor at collaboration. I am on a mission to demonstrate the opposite. Collaboration can take many forms, and different people have different needs and preferences. Autists learn and play differently, and only have a limited if any interest in competitive social games. We communicate and enjoy ourselves by sharing information and knowledge, and not by negotiating social status.
Myth 3: There are only very few female autists
– and autists have an “extremely male” brain
Reality: There may be as many female as male autists, and quite a number of us struggle to identify with a gender identity.
Looking into the Autistic Spectrum has given us more insight into how we humans think, and how our brains are wired differently. We have various ways of thinking that can be perceived as odd to neurotypical’s. Looking into gender identity is no different, as various autistic’s prefer not to follow traditional gender labels.
Myth 4: All autists are introverted
Reality: Some of us are extroverted.
I’m an extrovert Aspie. You’re a what now? Yes, you read it correctly, I’m an extrovert Aspie.
Now I can see you all frowning at your screens. Isn’t autism supposed to be all about being shy, and not talking to others and such? Indeed the common belief is that women with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to keep to themselves, only speak when spoken to, and are more observers than participants.
So how does this work when you have a very outgoing personality? I will make a list of things that might help you understand…
Myth 5: Crippling anxiety and depression are an inevitable aspect of being autistic
Reality: Anxiety and depression are often the result of bullying and discrimination.
… first impressions of individuals with ASD made from thin slices of real-world social behavior by typically-developing observers are not only far less favorable across a range of trait judgments compared to controls, but also are associated with reduced intentions to pursue social interaction. These patterns are remarkably robust, occur within seconds, do not change with increased exposure, and persist across both child and adult age groups. However, these biases disappear when impressions are based on conversational content lacking audio-visual cues, suggesting that style, not substance, drives negative impressions of ASD …
Myth 6: Those autists who are able to mask their autistic traits are “cured” or don’t need support
Masking and trying to communicate can feel like paddling downwind in a sea kayak, in a small swell that has been whipped up, where the speed is limited to the speed of the waves. No matter how hard you paddle and how much effort you put in, it is impossible to paddle over the small wave into which the tip of the kayak is pointing.
The energy loss associated with masking is best described as autistic burnout.
It’s taken me six weeks to start writing an article about Autistic Burnout, because I’m going through Autistic Burnout… If you saw someone going through Autistic Burnout would you be able to recognise it? Would you even know what it means? Would you know what it meant for yourself if you are an Autistic person? The sad truth is that so many Autistic people, children and adults, go through this with zero comprehension of what is happening to them and with zero support from their friends and families.
Myth 7: Learning to mask autistic traits is the key to a successful autistic life
Adults with autism who camouflage are eight times as likely to harm themselves as those who don’t.
This statistic tells us more about the severe illnesses that afflict our society than about autistic people. In our society hardly anyone is familiar with the social model of disability. Below a timely slide from a recent talk by Judy Singer on this topic.
Myth 8: Autism is a one-dimensional spectrum that ranges from mild to severe
Reality: The autism spectrum is multi-dimensional.
My inspiration for this project comes from the multi-lens structure found in the compound eyes of insects, where each lens captures a unique perspective. The objective is to create a library of authentic autistic voices as a counterbalance to the diagnostic language used by the medical profession and the autism industry.
Myth 9: Autists are looking for partners who can replace their mothers
Reality: We choose autistic partners at rates that are 10 times greater than random choice.
The pathologising language used by the researchers illustrates where society currently is at in terms of fully appreciating the value of neurodiversity. In spite of the growing body of evidence – and in spite of the double empathy challenge that is well recognised within the autistic community, some of the most visible figures in the autism industry like Tony Attwood think nothing of perpetuating a myth that likely sets up many autists for severe disappointments in forming trusted relationships and partnerships.
Myth 10: Autists are manipulative
Reality: We are incapable of maintaining a hidden agenda, but in certain environments sensory issues or anxiety may impact on our ability to interact or function
…The strip lights overhead, flickering constantly in pulsing waves, each one shooting through my eyes and down through my body; I can physically feel each pulse humming and vibrating…
… So we take more and more on, we allow our plates to get fuller and fuller, our anxiety heightens, our sensory processing becomes more difficult to maintain, our Executive Functioning abilities spin out of control and again this attributes to burnout. We aren’t generally terrific at juggling plates.
Jeanette Purkis, who is an Australian Autistic, an absolutely wonderful writer and a Member of my network organisation, The Autistic Cooperative, has written an excellent piece called “‘Too Nice’: Avoiding the traps of exploitation and manipulation.” In it Jeanette says:
“There is an actual concrete reason that we tend to be taken advantage of and it starts with the difference in communication between autistic people and neurotypical people. Autistic communication is generally on one level. We are honest, up front and do not often do things like manipulation and deceit. We generally do not lie although many autistic people are capable of lying if they feel the need but usually it doesn’t come naturally.
Note : This list of myths is not exhaustive!
Autistic life beyond the myths
the last 20 years have seen the rise of an “autism epidemic” and a profitable “autism industry”. Social progress in relation to autistic rights is overdue.