Monday, May 11, 2009

Joey: Mythbuster

Myth 5: All autistic people take everything very literally. Consequently, they have trouble with imagination.
I have been recently introduced to two very interesting new characters. The first is a small white bear named Gyp, who likes to drive trucks. Today, Gyp was trying to go to Mystery Island. We went to the park, and at our park there is a rock outcrop, and Joey decided that was Mystery island. He spent the afternoon with Gyp in a truck trying to race to Mystery Island (running back and forth between the playground and the outcropping).
The other we met just this week: Gravy Dillider. I have our first Gravy Dillider story for you, as soon as I get the illustration scanned in to share. No imagination? Um....

Myth 4: Autistic people don't talk. If they talk, they they have Asperger's Syndrome.
Asperger's Syndrome is an ASD. In other words, people with Asperger's Syndrome are autistic. However, it is more than just a distinction of language use. A person with a diagnosis of "classic autism" doesn't suddenly become "Asperger's Syndrome" if they start to talk. In fact, Joey had some language when he received his diagnosis. In fact, one of the hallmarks of Asperger's is normal language development- and one cannot turn the clock back and say Joey has had "normal language development" of any kind, even as his language skills emerge and we start playing catch-up. There is such a thing as a verbal autistic person.

Myth 3: Autistic people do not want contact with other people, they prefer to be alone, or they are anti-social.
I seriously doubt autistic people are any more likely to dislike being around people than anyone else. They may have more trouble expressing themselves in a manner that invites social connection by non-autistics, they may have issues with social skills and maintaining conversation, but that's not the same as not wanting to be around people. (Just like not being able to speak doesn't mean you have nothing to say).
Joey is extremely social, and loves other people. He likes have other kids around, he likes playing with other kids, and he likes knowing lots of people. Joey loves everyone.

Myth 2: Autistic people are savants- what they lack in communication and social skills, they make up for in wonderful gifts.
The idea that autistic people are all like Rainmain remains strong in the popular imagination. I get asked a lot what Joey's "special gift" is. Joey has strengths and weaknesses, like other children. His weaknesses happen to be more visible than other people's, and get in the way of his ability to function and communicate. His strengths help him overcome his weaknesses, and give him talents to enjoy and share- just like everyone else. The older Andy gets, the more I realize how true this is- both of my boys have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes Joey's strengths are also more noticeable, because his weaknesses are so noticeable, and the contrast becomes striking, like a Caravaggio in a world full of Raphaels. As yet, Joey has not shown himself to be particularly a savant, but he is a very smart and very talented person, and I'm definitely keen to discover what other talents await to unfold.

Myth 1: Autistic people have no sense of humor. (Often this is connected to a lack of social awareness).
Yes Joey has difficulty with jokes. It isn't because he doesn't enjoy them; he has trouble with the subtleties of language required to tell one. However, Joey loves being silly and funny and jokes that aren't language-heavy. Well, perhaps even that is a myth. One of the teachers at school discovered I was Joey's mom and launched into a wonderful story: She encountered Joey in the hall. He's usually such a sunny, happy kid, but that day he was grumpy and making a terrible face (one of his Pinky Dinky Doo frowns, which are quite dramatic-looking). She asked, "Joey! Where's your smile?" He replied, in his grumpiest voice, "Not here!"
She met him later that day. He looked up, saw her, smiled like a Cheshire Cat... and pointed at the smile with both hands, to let her know his smile was back.

Myth busted.

1 comment:

konnie said...

Interesting post. On another aspect, my take is that asperger's syndrome during the early stages should be attended and no parent should ever forget that.