Myth versus Reality

by Jean

I got to thinking over the last few weeks about the confusion I felt in Bob’s early days of wandering through AutieLand. Prior to his diagnosis, I researched exhaustively, desperately searching for clues that would pin a name on the bizarre collection of strange behaviours he was exhibiting.

Of course, autism made an early appearance, but I was constantly perplexed by the fact that he often just didn’t fit the pictures I was reading about. I spent 15 months on a sickening see-saw of “he has no speech (autism!) , but he has a wicked sense of humour (not autism!)”, “his eye contact is poor (autism!), but he loves cuddles (not autism!),” and so on, and so on, and so on. It nearly drove me insane with worry and uncertainty. Hey, we’ve all been there, and got the t-shirt/depression/addiction (delete as required) to prove it. Personally, I’d prefer the t-shirt, but my pickled liver and depleted serotonin levels tell another story.

It made me question the myths that surround autism, partly promoted by films like Rainman (which I love, but Bob has trouble counting 5 matchsticks, never mind 432 in an eyeblink…..he might eat them, though). But mostly, they grew out of lack of knowledge and experience.

The myths are sometimes comical, but are never helpful. So, because our kids are definitely not mythical creatures, let’s pick a small handful of fallacies to point and laugh at.

(a) Autie kids do not feel love.

Before you gallop down to the wilds of Monaghan to string me up by my perfectly manicured toes, I know this myth is a pile of poo. Of course our kids love us. Any of us who has cuddled a sick child while watching Dora for the gazillionth (yes, that’s a real number *ahem*) time, or got their ears pulled, or their face licked by a kid who just expresses love in that way, knows what it means. Maybe they can’t verbalise “I love you, mammy,” but when we tune into their language, we get what they mean.

(b) Autie kids only communicate with us to get their needs met.

Duh!!! What kid doesn’t???

(c) Autie kids have no imagination.

How many of you have been told that your child has no imagination? I visualise a virtual show of hands shooting up over the WebWaves.

Lack of imagination is considered such a strong indicator of autism that its presence is central to its diagnosis. Hmmmm. Now, I don’t doubt for a second that Bob is autistic (he’s just too damn handsome to be anything else), but I do question whether many of the accepted traits of autism are more myth than fact. Over the past few weeks, I snapped a few shots of Bob dressing up in other people’s clothes, and playing house with his sister.

Hmmmm. Imagination at work, methinks. Yet he’s still autistic.

Bob wearing my couture PJs

Bob wearing “daddy’s blue t-shirt”

Bob wearing his sister’s bunny slippers (great pins, eh?)

Dressing up is an integral part of an evolving imagination, as kids “try on” roles (echoes of empathy, anyone?) of other people, mentally as well as physically.

(d) Autie kids shun company.

Bob and his sister play pretend. Together.

(e) Autie kids have a special “gift” that compensates for their problems in other areas.

Please stop laughing. I’m being serious!

Now, of course Bob paints art deco masterpieces while performing piano concertos with his toes (when he’s not busy correcting Stephen Hawking’s Theory of Everything…give the kid a chance!), but otherwise, he’s a perfectly normal autie kid.

I know I really don’t need to spell it out, but most autie kids are not savants. Otherwise, there’d be a lot of very wealthy autie parents out there who wouldn’t need to beg, borrow, and steal services for their kids.

(f) Autie kids are painfully beautiful.

Now THAT one is true.

Our kids are as individual as the hair on our fabulously coiffed heads. They can’t be numbered in a catalogue. Just recited as poetry.

About the Author: Jean describes herself as “an ordinary mum of 3 great kids, whose life became extraordinary when my youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.” This piece first appeared on her blog, Planet Autism, and is reprinted here by permission.



4 thoughts on “Myth versus Reality

  1. Sharon says:

    Love this. My son is exhibit A for all the above.

  2. Jean says:

    It was really nice to read this post again…and to see how much “Bob” (as in The Builder, but otherwise known as Finian) has grown in a year. And the myths that I noticed then are still as relevant now. Thanks for re-posting this here XXX

  3. chavisory says:

    I had the exact same thought last night…don’t most *children* only communicate to get their needs met? (Actually, when I was a drama major, we learned in script analysis and acting classes that *people* communicate in order to get what they want. What they want can be simple or complex, selfish or altruistic…but people talk to get what they want. Period.)

    Also, isn’t “living in your own fantasy world” a defining feature of childhood, not just of autism?

  4. […] Myth versus Reality | Autism and Empathy Of course, autism made an early appearance, but I was constantly perplexed by the fact that he often just didn't fit the pictures I was reading about. I spent 15 months on a sickening see-saw of “he has no speech (autism! Source: […]

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