Things I Wish Everyone Understood About Autism

I have realized lately just how many things there are concerning autism that most people don’t understand. I thought that I would compile a list of things that I wish everyone would understand about autism.

1. It is NOT a disease.

Unfortunately many people do not seem to understand this. I frequently encounter people that think that autism is a contagious, terminal disease. I find it appalling that people actually believe that it is a disease. It is a neurological difference, not a disease!

2. There are often explanations for the seemingly “weird” things that we do.

Whether it involves refusing certain foods, feeling clothing before trying it on, or rubbing our hands together in a certain way, there is an explanation for why it is being done. Most commonly these behaviors are related to sensory sensitivity issues, or are a method of calming oneself. Many people on the spectrum have densities to certain tastes, textures, sounds, and sometimes even light and colors, which leads to behavior that is perceived to be unusual, in an attempt for the person to avoid sensitivities that they have. We also have behaviors such as hand rubbing, flapping, or twisting, in order to help calm our brains.

3. Communication is often overwhelmingly difficult to interpret.

Imagine that you are given a picture and have to determine what is shown in the picture. However, you are only able to see just around 20% of the picture. You would probably have a difficult time doing this most of the time, right? This is a good way to think about what communication is like when you have autism. Around 80% of communication is nonverbal. We often find nonverbal communication to be extremely difficult to interpret, and often we are incorrect in our interpretation of such communication. We have to interpret communication with only 20% of the picture all day every day. Could you imagine that? Living your life being able to understand only around 20% of all communication that you are involved in? That is reality for us every day.

4. Improperly handling situations involving us (and meltdowns especially) will only make things worse.

Nothing hurts more than being told by people that “we should know better” when we mess up. We are usually trying incredibly hard to correctly interpret and handle a situation, but often fail because we have difficulties interpreting such situations. Telling us that we should know better just makes us feel more ashamed and leads to us beating ourselves up mentally and emotionally more. Likewise, screaming at us during a meltdown exacerbates the situation, instead of “snapping us out of it” like most people believe. Meltdowns are often times in which we are in a fragile state, and adding stress onto the situation is not the proper way to react. Often times it will make the meltdown worse.

Hopefully this post leaves you with a better understanding of autism.

~Meghan

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Asperger’s: The Fountain of Youth

During the time that I have spent talking with other people on the spectrum, I have realized that most, if not all, of us on the spectrum tend to either feel or act much younger than our actual age. One of my friends recently suggested that I discuss this further, so I decided to dedicate my latest entry to this topic.

My entire life I have always felt younger than the rest of my peers, and I was told many times growing up that I acted younger than I truly was, as well as that I seemed to be younger emotionally as well. This didn’t become incredibly apparent until I hit my teenage years. As a child I didn’t think much of it, and neither did those around me, but it became a much larger problem when I was a teenager and in upper middle school/high school.

As a teenager, I still found humor in things that were deemed childish. I laughed at jokes that other teenagers and older kids didn’t find amusing but young children did,  I did not feel that I could handle the same level of emotions that others my age could, and when I got excited about things that happened I would express my excitement in a way that closely resembled a young child instead of a teenager. This continued on for many years. In fact, I still feel the same way, and I will be 21 in a few days.

The fact that I act in a way that is sometimes younger than my age has brought a lot of teasing my way. I can’t help it, my natural responses are usually closer to the responses of a child than those of a young adult. This is probably due to my autism, because autism can create social and emotional deficits that cause me to act in a way that isn’t reflective of my true age. I feel like I am socially and emotionally a 13 year old currently. I don’t see this as something to be ashamed of, because I can’t help it. I try to view it in a positive light. I feel much younger than I really am, and I am still in touch with my inner child, which isn’t always a bad thing. I do think that the negative stigma related to this aspect of autism needs to be done away with, however. I know many adults who feel and act like teenagers, and aren’t doing any harm and are very happy with themselves. Feeling youthful should be celebrated, not made fun of.

~Meghan

5 Dangerous Myths About High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

So going off of my last post, I finally decided to post my reactions to some of the most common myths about those with Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism in general. I’m appalled by how widely believed these myths are, and I’m hoping to shed some light on the truth, coming from the perspective of an Aspie/Autistic woman. 🙂

Myth #1: Those with autism or Asperger’s react the same way to all sensory input, including tastes, textures, sounds, etc.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with people who believe this myth. Quite a few people have heard that those on the autism spectrum have some sensory processing issues, but they wrongly assume that this means that ALL sensory input causes us issues. The truth is that it depends on each individual person. Most people on the spectrum don’t have an issue with all input, but rather specific sounds, tastes, textures, etc. This is the same for me. I only have issues with a few tastes, such as onions and raw tomatoes. When it comes to textures, the only ones that bother me are really rough or scratchy textures, but everything else is perfectly fine with me. In regards to sounds, humming, loud unexpected noises, scratching, and scraping bug me. I do not freak out at every sound, taste, or texture that I encounter. However, if I’m bombarded with lots of different sensory inputs in a short amount of time, I can get extremely stressed out, but this is common among most who are on the spectrum. You should also keep in mind that we experience most sensory input stronger than those who aren’t on the spectrum, but we do not hate all of it and actually quite enjoy some tastes, textures, and sounds.

Myth #2: Those on the autism spectrum hate people and have no desire to interact or form relationships.

This is probably one of the most damaging myths that I’ve encountered. I know that for me, as well as most all of the others on the spectrum that I’ve talked to, we desire friendships and relationships, but just lack the social skills and understanding to properly form them. I would love nothing more than to have quite a few friends and acquaintances, but I often try to stay away from people (not because I don’t like people), because I have trouble with nonverbal communication, understanding humor, deciding what is appropriate to say, etc. These kinds of issues can create difficulties in cultivating relationships. So please don’t think that we don’t want friendships, we do but it is a painful process for us.

Myth #3: Those on the spectrum have no emotions whatsoever. 

This is another incredibly dangerous myth. I encounter a lot of people who think that autism means that you can’t feel anything, and are pretty much an emotionless robot. This is definitely not true! We often experience emotions that are more intense than those experienced by people not on the spectrum, but we often just have difficulties expressing these emotions. I know that for me, I can be extremely excited or upset or happy or sad but to those who see me I look stoic. It’s difficult for us to properly express emotions. We don’t always know how we should display these emotions to others through our body language, or if it is the proper time to display such emotions, etc. We are most certainly not emotionless robots!!!

Myth #4: Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism is just an excuse for individuals to be lazy and not try socially, or get away with being rude.

Yes, people actually believe this myth. I find it appalling. I really do. It’s disturbing that people trivialize my trials and social issues by labeling me as lazy and rude. It’s horrible. Unless you are on the spectrum, you have NO idea what a challenge being autistic is day in and day out. It’s difficult and stressful and emotionally draining. Yes, I try to work to improve my social skills. No, it’s not easy. I’m trying to learn despite having a brain that isn’t wired in the way that everyone else’s is. It’s a battle every day to adapt and learn what everyone else already knows instinctively. Mistakes that I make in the social realm linger with me for years and I feel anguish every time I screw up. So no, I’m not lazy or rude. I just have a brain that is different than yours and makes it difficult to understand proper social interaction.

Myth #5: Those who have High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s can’t amount to anything and are stupid.

Another appalling myth. I know several people on the spectrum who are geniuses and more intelligent than most people who aren’t on the spectrum. I myself am an aspiring forensic scientist. Most of us on the spectrum have a special interest which we obsessively learn about. Mine happens to be forensic science. A lot of us also have an intelligence that is above average. A lot of us can make excellent experts in the area of our special interest. Yes, we are capable of holding down jobs if given the proper help and if those around us take the time to understand us. We aren’t useless, or stupid, not at all. Never let that thought cross your mind!

 

 

The Truth About What High Functioning Autism is Like

I thought I would dedicate my next post to the misconceptions behind High Functioning Autism (HFA), and also explain what it’s really like to be a person with HFA.

I would like to start out by addressing the misconceptions surrounding HFA. It is often though that since the word ‘autism’ is in HFA, that we are exactly the same as everyone else on the spectrum. Yes, autism does link all of us that fall on the autism spectrum, but each individual form of autism has it’s own unique characteristics. When people hear that I have AS they automatically assume that I have the characteristics of other autistic people that they have seen or interacted with. Not true. I am not the same as any other person on the spectrum. I’m even unique compared to every other person with AS. I may have a brain that is put together in a different way than Neuro-Typicals (people who are not on the spectrum) just like every autistic person, but I am still my own person. I frequently run into people who think that I, along with other ASDs, are stupid and incapable of anything product. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. All of us, even if we are lower functioning, have amazing gifts that go beyond what normal people can do. I saw a video a while back of a girl who would be considered on the lower functioning end of the ASD. Like most lower functioning autistics, she was unable to communicate. Through the help of her parents, she was able to learn how to type to communicate. The words that she wrote amazed everyone. She was incredibly articulate, more so than a NT girl of the same age. With those who have HFA, they are often incredibly gifted in some amazing areas. I have been given a gift in all areas of science. I know others who are gifted in the areas of math, chemistry, history, and many others. It just goes to show that we are much more capable and intelligent than you think. Never let it cross your mind that someone with autism is “stupid” or “retarded”. We have so much intelligence within us, it’s just often hard for us to communicate just how smart we are.

Now that I’ve covered some misconceptions, I would like to give you an account on what it’s like to have AS. In social situations, I often feel like an alien. Or like I’m invisible. If anyone happens to notice me, which isn’t very often, I feel very out of place and like I don’t belong. When I am talking to people I often say the wrong thing without realizing it. I offend a lot of people that way. I would much rather stay in a corner or lock myself in my room to avoid people. It’s usually easier that way so I don’t embarrass myself. When I am around around other people I tend to talk excessively about science, which is something that most people don’t care to hear about. My brain feels like it is on overdrive 24/7. My mind is always shifting from one thought to another. A majority of my thoughts revolve around science. For example, I will be walking around my college campus and my mind will go from thinking about how a sidewalk that goes in a certain direction forms a great right triangle with the one I’m walking on, to thinking about the chemical composition of our lake, to thinking about how the stars will be aligned that night. This is how my brain works all day, every day. It’s kind of crazy and most NTs don’t really understand it. I’m in Analytical Chemistry this semester, and for those of you that don’t know that is a pretty difficult class. I often understand the material, but with the way my brain is set up it is so difficult to get the information from my brain to the paper. It often feels like it’s impossible to convey what I’m thinking. Thankfully my professor is incredibly understanding and he is very helpful in helping me to convey what’s in my mind. I also tend to obsess over stuff very easily. Once I find something that I like it will often become an obsession of mine for a while, which is a fault with my brain. I also have a lot of sensitivities to sounds, such as humming, whistling, scraping sounds, and many others. It’s very hard for a NT to understand these sensitivities. They usually tell me to just suck it up and get over it. What they don’t understand is that due to the way my brain is set up these sounds seems like they are about 10x louder than they really are, and because they send me into sensory overload they can effectively shut down my thought process and prevent me from thinking properly, doing homework, focusing, etc.

I hope that this description has helped you to understand AS a bit better. If you have any questions about AS feel free to ask me. Most importantly, never judge a person with ASD without getting to know them first. They will surprise you. Have a good day!

~Meghan