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7 Surprises About People With Autism

Fact and fiction about people and personalities

If your assumptions about autism come from popular culture, you may not have the full picture.

Stereotypes don’t fit people with autism any better than they fit the rest of us. When we talk about autism spectrum disorders (ASD), spectrum is an important word. ASD covers a wide range of conditions and characteristics. The people who live with those conditions have traits and personalities as different as you are from your neighbors, friends and family.

All people with autism are alike

Fiction. Individuals with autism are just that — individuals, each with personal strengths and challenges. There is a saying in the community: If you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism.

“People on the autism spectrum absolutely have feelings and can be hurt, even if they perceive the world differently.”

Thomas Frazier II, PhD

Director, Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health, Center for Autism

People with autism don’t get hurt feelings

Fiction. People on the autism spectrum absolutely have feelings and can be hurt, even if they perceive the world differently. This myth stems from the difficulty many have expressing their feelings in a way that makes sense to others.

All people with autism have restricted interests or repetitive behaviors

Fact. To receive a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, people must show repetitive or ritualistic behavior or have restricted interests that impair social functioning. Some of these are relatively harmless, such as waving arms, turning in circles or repeating certain noises. Others, such as repetitive head banging, can be dangerous.

Autism comes with hidden or exceptional talents

Mostly fiction. A small percentage of people with ASD have exceptional talents that only a few people in the world can claim. Many have what we call “splinter skills.” These specific thinking skills are much sharper than their other abilities. For example, a person with autism may have strong skills in math but have difficulty with communication.

People with autism cannot lead independent, successful lives

Fiction. In truth, prognosis varies greatly from person to person. However, some individuals with an ASD live independently and find success in careers and personal lives.

Individuals with an ASD have trouble holding conversations

Fact. Conversations and the subtleties of language present challenges for many people with autism. Just how big that challenge is depends on the person’s level of ability, or where they fall on the spectrum.

Individuals with autism prefer to be alone

Fiction. Some do and some don’t, but that is true of the typical population too. High-functioning individuals with an ASD may feel sadness and despair if they are isolated from family and others important to them. They often need support and understanding in their social interactions, but a rich social life can be both beneficial and enjoyable for them.

Tags: ASD, autism, autism awareness month 2013, autism spectrum disorders, myths

Thomas Frazier II, PhD, studies ways to better understand autism symptoms and improve diagnosis. He is Director of the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital Center for Pediatric Behavioral Health and Center for Autism.

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  • Sam

    I work with many children disgnosed with ASD who do not have restricted interested or repetitive behaviors.

  • GeorgeBMac

    The trouble with stories like this is that the APA has now lumped Asberger’s in with Autism — so these characterizations simply are no longer true or reliable.

    They are very different disorders… Yes, there are a few similarities. But they are quite different — which makes articles like this problematic.