In honor of Autism Awareness Month I have decided to compile a list of some common myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorders and the people who live with them.
As a teenager living with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, I am speaking my opinion from my experiences and research and am not necessarily dictating facts.
Autism is still a widely unknown realm despite extensive research. If you would like to support funding for autism research and families with autism or read more about autism spectrum disorders, please visit www.autismnj.org or my blog at www.theautistartist.wordpress.com.
Autistic People Are Not All Created Equal
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there are many conditions within the spectrum. The most common autism spectrum disorders are autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified. Their symptoms can range from severe, as in some varieties of autism or the little-known Rett Syndrome, or can be very mild, as in high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Severe cases usually involve severe language delays, and some individuals never speak. These people are referred to as “non-verbal”--they need constant attention throughout their lives and usually spend their adulthoods in group homes or with family members.
High-functioning individuals, on the other hand, can go on to be extremely successful and independent. Some famous people speculated to have autism are Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
All people on the spectrum have some varying degree of social deficiencies, hypersensitivity, targeted obsessions (such as train schedules or dinosaurs), and fine motor deficiencies.
Just because somebody is autistic does not mean that they have autism. Autism is a specific diagnosis, while an autism spectrum disorder could be any of several conditions.
10 Percent of Autistic People Also Have Savant Syndrome
Savant Syndrome is probably most famously portrayed in the 1991 movie “Rain Man,” in which the main character is an autistic savant. In reality, around 1 in 10 people with an autism spectrum disorder also have savant abilities, though they are not as obvious in some people as they are in “Rain Man.”
This is because the severity of Savant Syndrome (that is, how prodigious the abilities are) is generally proportional to the severity of the ASD in the individual. Prodigious savants, while possessing unbelievable abilities in their respective area, are usually extremely low-functioning and a lot of times are unable to communicate efficiently.
Those with more mild forms of autism tend to have more mild forms of Savant Syndrome (A notable exception is Daniel Tammet, the current world record holder for Most Digits of Pi Memorized at 25,000 digits, who is a prodigious savant and has mild Asperger’s Syndrome).
The four types of savants are mathematical calculators like Rain Man and Mr. Tammet, who can compute large equations mentally, date calculators who can associate any calendar date with the day of the week it fell on, musical savants who have perfect pitch and find music natural, and spatial savants such as Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison, who can design and test machines in their heads.
Autistic People Always Act For A Reason
The most common thing many people associate with autistic children is tantrums. In non-verbal or semi-verbal children with more severe varieties of autism, tantrums occur quite frequently. In these tantrums the child will scream, run, bite, pull hair, hit himself, and/or cry and more, depending on the specific child.
They may seem random and unsolicited, but the truth is that every tantrum has a reason. Autistic people are extremely logical thinkers and, in fact, do not enjoy having tantrums. The internal chaos that ensues during an episode is quite uncomfortable and is always a response to overwhelming stimuli in the outside environment.
Common settings for tantrums are crowded supermarkets or restaurants, amusement parks, or any place that is too loud, too bright, or too enclosed.
More Boys Than Girls Are Diagnosed With ASD
1 in 110 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and 1 in 70 boys have been diagnosed.
Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. This may not necessarily mean that ASD occurs more often in boys--my theory is that it is more difficult to diagnose an autism spectrum disorder in girls because we learn to adapt to our environment much easier.
This does not mean that autistic girls are smarter, but that society simply makes it easier to be a girl with an ASD. While young girls tend to be accepting of their peers’ differences, young boys tend to act out physically upon those who are different. As a result, autistic boys tend to be bullied much more than autistic girls, and since boys have a harder time of controlling emotions, they tend to act out in the form of violence or tantrums. Such actions usually lead to immediate evaluation by psychiatrists and earlier diagnosis.
Because girls have to worry less about bullying, they are less likely to be evaluated until other symptoms become more evident later in life.
Nicole D'Angelo is a 17-year-old Warren resident diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. She is also an Autism Awareness Ambassador for Autism NJ, working to increase awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders during Autism Awareness Month. Each Tuesday for the next four weeks, Warren Patch will publish excepts from Nicole's blog to help others learn more about the diagnosis and gain a better understanding of those living with autism.