Ah, April. The month of Awareness. Lots more articles, shows, ads, and information bouncing around about autism, and not all of it accurate or useful. There are a few phrases and myths I just get sick of. And since I am grumpy this morning, here they are.
1. Autistic people do not feel empathy or sympathy. Horsehockeys. There is a difference between being able to empathize and being able to do something about that empathy, or being able to communicate empathy. Joey knows how people are feeling around him- often acutely. Being able to react appropriately is more of a problem. If someone is hurt on the playground, he is quick with a hug and kind word. When people around him are nervous and fretful, he gets anxious, too. When folks are sad, he tries to help make them feel better.
2. Autistic people are trapped in another world. Joey's problem is he is trapped in this one, where people seem to lack empathy for him. Who is the autistic one, again?
But seriously, communication disabilities aren't about being locked up somewhere else. They are difficulties in being able to communicate what you are thinking and feeling to other people. That's not being "locked up" somewhere else.
I have often seen it bandied about medical blogs that people would rather die than live with a communication disability. The idea that a person who can only move their eyes or who can't communicate should be abandoned for dead is horrifying to me- can you imagine being in a room and hearing, "Well, she can't communicate, so let's turn off this respirator..." and you want to scream like Horton's Whos, "I am here! I am here!" and your life being so little valued simply because you cannot speak? Are you "locked in another world"? Or are you trapped in this one? What if someone took the time to teach you another way to communicate, work with you to move your eyes, your hands, anything at all? Would you still want that respirator turned off? Or have them stop all food and water and just "let you die"? How scared and frustrated would you be?
How many kids live that way every day, because people who are not autistic, who are supposed to be special needs professionals, have no empathy for them? And then they wonder why the kid melts down?
3. Autistic people are violent, or prone to violence. Prove it. Show me the studies. Autistic people are likely more prone to frustration and acting out because of communication difficulties, but "Acting out" and "prone to violence" are two very different things. They are likely more prone to depression because of a lack of understanding, acceptance, and empathy towards them, but "depressed" and "violent" are two different things. Frustration and depression can result in increased aggression, but not just in autistic people. See #2.
Seriously, people, let's look for some real awareness. When going about your everyday lives, try to empathize with and respect others instead of judging them. Try to help rather than scorn. Know that we all have our own challenges and our own strengths, and try to share your talents and meet your challenges, will helping others do the same. We are all unique.