If you’ve met one autistic individual, you’ve met one autistic individual.
Myth #1: We Don’t Have Friends
We do have relationships. Like all human beings, sometimes our relationships last and sometimes they don’t. We might prefer to be alone or have a lower tolerance level for crowds, or the company of another person, for extended periods of time; but we do like having friends and partners. Some of us choose not to be in a relationship; some of us choose to be in a relationship; some of us cannot find a relationship that ‘fits.’ Aspects about being autistic make the probability higher that we will have had more struggles in finding or keeping friends, but many of us older autistic adults have been in long term relationships, married, lived with close partners, raised children, and maintain contact with people we care about.
Myth #2: We Can’t Be Successful at a Job
We are managers, supervisors, bosses, teachers, professors, scientists, inventors, mathematicians, artists, writers, dog groomers, life coaches, counselors, software testers, computer programmers, and much more. There are some of us who struggle to find work or keep a job because of obstacles, such as lack of support systems, communication barriers during the hiring process, misunderstandings, bullying, disabilities, and the like. But there are those of us who are very successful in our chosen career. Many are self-employed, entrepreneurs, or hold multiple degrees or interests of study.
Myth #3: We are Much the Same
We are all unique. I live with two on the autism spectrum, and between the three of us we have our unique ways of looking at the world, our unique understanding of self and others, our unique spiritual beliefs, and unique passions and interests. We have different tastes in music, in foods, in entertainment, in literature, and politics. We have the commonality of a fast-thinking brain and ramifications of social communication challenges with other people who aren’t autistic. We have the commonality of unique traits associated with being on the autism spectrum and/or Asperger’s syndrome. But the rest of who we are is very individualized.
Myth #4: We Can’t Read Body Language
Most older autistic individuals can understand and interpret body language. Most have trained ourselves about communication through trial and error, through examination of others, and through other educational resources. Sometimes it may appear we are not to picking up clues during a conversation; this is often because we are distracted by our internal thought processes/inner dialogue, sensory overload, and our emotions. Our minds are often going a mile-a-minute, and thoughts of body language aren’t typically on the top of our list.
Myth #5: We are Selfish
We are highly-focused and highly-analytical. We tend to see things outside of the box and have capacities to solve problems and challenges in a new light—sometimes with lightning speed. When we are focused on a job, we are project-focused. When we are largely preoccupied by our anxiety, we are focused on survival. When we are in overload from sensory sensitivities, we are focused on regrouping and regenerating. When we are triggered by multiple events or happenings in a day, we are focused on self-preservation. We might come across as selfish, because we have strong convictions and need a large amount of alone time. But are level of selfishness is comparable to any other human being on this planet.
Myth #6: We Need to be Taught by Non-Autistic People How to Be in the World
There is nothing more insulting to most autistic adults than another’s assumption that we need to be taught how to be in this world. Adult autistics have taught themselves how to survive from a young age. We had to. We had to learn to imitate, adjust, survive, and get by with our growing skill set. We don’t generally welcome or appreciate unsolicited advice; nor do we have fondness for others who think that because they hear a label that they know more about us than our own selves. We learn the well through self-study and through the companionship of other like-minded people. We learn when we aren’t preached to, told what to do, how to act, or set up for failure by mainstream’s expectations that we should somehow mold ourselves into being someone else, e.g., masking.
Myth #7: We are Rude
Autistic folks can be blunt, straightforward, matter-of-fact, and entirely transparent. There is a give and take in having an autistic coworker, colleague, friend, or partner. You will typically know that what they say is what they believe or feel at the time. You can generally rest assured there aren’t any giant secrets, hidden agendas, plotting, back stabbing, gossip, or ill-will transpiring. You can also expect to get your feelings hurt a bit, be shocked, and sometimes even shake your head in laughter. Because, like I mentioned previously, we aren’t typical thinkers. Yet, we also aren’t ‘game players.’ We tell it like it is. And there comes a great freedom in that, if you stick around long enough to release some of the aspects of ‘hurt feelings’ and get to the heart of really what is being said.
Myth #8: We Lack Feelings
Some of us have a difficult time distinguishing between emotions and processing emotions. We might have an opposite response to a situation—such as laughing when we should be crying. We might feel nothing at all or completely numb, initially. This is an automatic, self-preservation mode. We have the potential to become overwhelmed with intense emotions—such as grief, let down, anger, and love. We become bogged down in the extremeness of the situation. We then might respond in an unexpected manner, e.g. shut down, escape, meltdown, or breakdown. When we have found the time to filter through the emotions, process, and recoup, we are able to come back with the ‘typical’ emotional expression and reaction, having leached ourselves of multiple thoughts and experiences, and bled out the muck that was clogging up our responding pipes.
Myth #9: We Throw Tantrums
We live on high-alert and heightened awareness with deep connections to everything that adding to that the unexpected event, news, or happening can tip us over the edge. We feel things with intensity. We are intense. We constantly try to negotiate with our own minds. We constantly try to fit in within our own universe. Everything is complex. Everything a puzzle. When we are pushed too far, by one thing or another, it may seem a simple nothing to the onlooker. But to us, it is the hundredth, if not thousandth, trigger in our day. We hold it together, amazingly well, for all the challenges we face. Life isn’t just hard, but the very act of trying to function and exist.
Myth #10: We Long for Attention
We sometimes share about our struggles, about autism, about mental health issues, relationships, deep sadness and sorrow. We might write blogs or share art on social networks. Maybe a song or poetry. Some of our sharing might seem out of place in the typical world. We might advocate in writings or speak loudly. This is us being real and authentic. Most of us don’t share in hopes of attention, but for connection. There is a vast difference. We find our ability to maintain laser-sharp focus, to accomplish large endeavors, to create in new ways, and to find answers no one else knew were there before, amazing! We appreciate our often, off-the-charts admiration and adoration of nature, music, and animals. We appreciate those of us that our poets, those of us that are philosophers, those of us that are comedians, those of us that are scholars. We often celebrate our accomplishments, despite how minor they may seem to onlookers. We aren’t seeking attention; we aren’t complaining; we aren’t even whining; we are just waiting to be seen, valued, believed, and understood; and if not that, then at minimal, left to be.
Author’s Note: I could have added: #11 We Lack Empathy but I just couldn’t stomach explaining that falsehood, yet another time! In my years of communication with more than 10,000 individuals on the autism spectrum, I can honestly say 3 or 4 have been huge assholes that seemed to lack compassion. And they were more than likely misdiagnosed. Statistically speaking, I’d say that’s not too bad.
Marcelle Ciampi (aka Samatha Craft) is a respected autistic author and community advocate, is best known for her writings found in the well-received book Everyday Aspergers. A professional educator, she has been featured in various literature, including peer-reviewed journals, Autism Parenting Magazine, The Mighty, Project Aspie, Art of Autism, and Different Brains. Marcelle works as the Recruitment Manager and Outreach Specialist at Ultranauts Inc., an engineering firm with a neurodiversity-hiring initiative, and is a consultant for Uptimize and Spectrum Fusion. A contributing author of Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, Marcelle speaks globally on the topic of neurodiversity. She also serves as the founder of Spectrum Suite LLC, the co-founder of the Spectrum Lights Inclusion Summit, co-executive of LifeGuides for Autistics (neuroguides.org), and a contributor and advisor to autism organizations and conferences internationally. Some of her works, especially The Ten Traits, have been translated into multiple languages and been shared in counseling offices around the world. She resides in the Pacific Northwest U.S.A. with her sons and life partner.
“Everyday Aspergers is an unusual and powerful exploration of one woman’s marvelously lived life. Reminiscent of the best of Anne Lamott, Everyday Aspergers jumps back and forth in time through a series of interlocking vignettes that give insight and context to her lived experience as an autistic woman. The humor and light touch is disarming, because underneath light observations and quirky moments are buried deep truths about the human experience and about her own work as an autistic woman discerning how to live her best life. From learning how to make eye contact to finding ways to communicate her needs to being a dyslexic cheerleader and a fraught mother of also-autistic son, Samantha Craft gives us a marvelous spectrum of experiences. Highly recommended for everyone to read — especially those who love people who are just a little different.”
~ Ned Hayes, bestselling author of The Eagle Tree