I’ve been mulling over this for a long time, and it’s about time I wrote it. This might get long, or it might remain surprisingly brief. We’ll see 🙂
Before I begin, I’ll issue my usual disclaimer that this is simply my viewpoint, based on what I’ve read, observed (in others and myself), and my personal experience. And, that they’re in no particular order, other than that in which they came to mind.
Myth: People “with” Asperger’s/autism are cold and/or heartless.
Actually, if one spends enough time with us and dilates their mind enough to try to understand us, and we trust that person enough to open up to them, they’ll quickly realize that we actually have big, warm hearts. I think that the reason people think we’re cold or heartless is for several reasons. First, we can tend to be uber-logical. Logic and facts aren’t always warm, fuzzy, or socially-correct. That doesn’t matter for many of us; fact is fact, and we’re concerned with “what is”–i.e., reality. Another reason may be that we have trouble identifying or expressing the emotions we feel (I’ll probably touch on this a few times throughout this post). Regardless, the fact (there’s that word again) remains that we’re very genuine people and we tend to care (sometimes too much) about the human and 4-legged loved ones in our lives. We treasure our friends and family (if the latter isn’t too dysfunctional or abusive in some way).
Myth: We’re insensitive and apathetic.
As I touched on above, we do care–probably too much, probably so much that we find it hard to express the depth of our caring. We’re also highly sensitive, in practically all aspects, especially in terms of emotions and sensory stimuli. How other people treat us, for better or worse, affects us deeply. We internalize peoples’ words and actions, and they can impact us for life. This is true for people off the spectrum (allistic people) too, but this phenomenon seems to be much more widespread and amplified among the spectrum community.
Myth: We’re distant, unemotional, and/or aloof.
We may not make eye contact or express ourselves in a conventional way, with facial expression and dramatic vocal tones. We may seem distant. Our thoughts may indeed be distant, sometimes venturing to and wandering around in a far-away land. That happens; we can’t help it. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not Present with the person we’re spending time with. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel emotion, and it doesn’t mean that we’re closed off to humanity. We often do feel like we’re on an island by ourselves, having been “marooned” by most of the rest of the world.
Myth: We’re self-absorbed and/or narcissistic; “it’s all about us.”
We may appear to be that way, if we dominate a conversation with monologues about a special interest topic (I’m guilty!), but it’s absolutely not self-absorption or narcissism, especially in the conventional sense. My goal is to simply help people by sharing my knowledge. Because I can–and do–hyperfocus, I may lose track of time or the fact that I’ve been going on for a while, without seeking back-and-forth dialogue. It’s not self-absorption; it’s simply that we’re “in the zone”, and since we often feel ignored or not-listened-to, we’re excited to have finally found someone to talk with, and we’re elated to share what we know! It’s true that we usually do have a rich and vivid internal world, and that world is almost always brimming with activity. We’re also really busy processing, or perhaps concentrating on acting the “right” way, to minimize further/additional judgment against us or criticism of us. But it’s not narcissism; most people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum actually score lower on narcissism assessments than the average allistic/neurotypical population!
Myth: We don’t have friends or partners, and we don’t want relationships or friendships; instead, we prefer to be reclusive.
Most of us actually do have friends, and some of us even have partners. Whether we do or not, we probably would or actually do desire them, given the chance. Some of us may not have relationships or friendships because we often find it difficult to relate to other people, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to. Some of us may believe that we don’t want them, but I have the sneaking suspicion that that’s because they’ve tried in the past–probably many times–and have gotten “burned” in some way each time. By now, they may have simply–and understandably–given up, resigning themselves to a life of solitude. But deep down, I don’t think that’s their preference or ideal.
Myth: We don’t lead normal lives; we’re incapable of relationships, parenting, having sex, living independently, or getting a job.
Most people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum do have at least a few relationships (meant as an umbrella term). We often have a good friend or two (or a few more). Many of us also have romantic partnerships. How many of us actually live independently may be up for debate. I’m aware that a lot of us live with our parents well into adulthood. I also know that many of us are either married or in otherwise-long-term partnerships or maybe with a roommate, living separate from our parents. I’m married, but whether or not I could live alone and support myself completely and independently is something I’ve recently had to call into hard question. It’s possible that these spouses, partners, boyfriends/girlfriends, roommates, etc, could be a necessary source of support for some of us, without whom some of us may not actually be all that independent after all.
Many of us don’t have children at all (we don’t); others of us do have (usually one or two; only occasionally do we have more) children. Although our parenting style may be unconventional, and the parental roles may deviate from what is considered the norm, we make fine parents in general. Our logic, fairness, lack of drama, quirkiness, intelligence, youthfulness, and tendency to see the world differently are refreshing qualities in good parenting.
Employment can indeed be incredibly dicey. From what I’ve read from credible sources, the statistics for the US (where I live) are relatively grim (although not impossible): they estimate that 10-25% of us are employed….which means that 75-90% of us are not. The estimates are wide and vague, but either way, the picture looks generally bleak. That being said, it’s not hopeless! Of those of us who are employed, many of us are self-employed. I don’t have exact numbers, but I do know that the numbers are fairly large and encouraging. I’ve got a
future post on spectrum employment/self-employment in the making written.
Myth: We’re disabled/Asperger’s is a disability, and we’re all on disability assistance.
I may step on a few toes here (but that’s not my intent; I mean no offense!) but in general, I don’t believe that Asperger’s/autism is exclusively a disability. Even (long) before my own personal spectrum journey began, I viewed people (usually famous), who I now realize were probably Aspie/autistic people, to simply be quirky, intelligent, gifted, curious, geniuses who gave the world their gifts, talents, and inventions, changing the world for the (much) better and propelling it forward along the continuum of evolution. Although I didn’t realize they were on the spectrum at the time, I knew that there was something special about them, and that their brain operated differently. I also noticed that one or two of these people appeared sporadically over time, and that these people simply seemed to be born the way they were. Enough is known about some of these people that we can “arm-chair diagnose” some of them retrospectively, recognizing their spot on the spectrum. I never would have considered those people as disabled.
I do hold the opinion that Asperger’s/autism is a neurological variant (always have, even before I became aware of the term), and that with that variant come a set of a pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges. Nobody is perfect, nothing is all good or all bad. Thus, to say that spectrum “conditions” are simply “disabilities” is only a half-truth, like saying that the sky on earth is dark, while ignoring the hours of sunlight. I realize some people abhor the term “different ability”, but my own experience echoes it and synchronizes with it very strongly.
I enthusiastically agree with the fact that on some days, our spectrumhood feels like a disability, and on some days, we feel more disabled than at other times. However, the truth is, if we’re in optimal health, removing all the junk and chronic conditions from our bodies (and minds; if the body is dysfunctional or clouded or toxic or malnourished, so is the brain), then we, too, could use our Asperger’s/autism as a strength, developing our special interests and natural talents into something that we, too, could give the world. Yes, I firmly do believe that. I’m into that “hokey holistic health stuff” and yet…I’m self-employed, with fulfilling relationships, plenty of energy, and no medications. I’m not “lucky”; I worked extremely hard to reclaim my health from the chronic sickness abyss, I nearly killed myself on the path to my career (after which I had no choice but to recover again, if I wanted to succeed at all), and I maintain regular contact with my select group of people.
Please know that I’m not (at all) trying to brag here; just (true to Aspie form) “telling it like it is” from my own experience and my observations of others, in hopes that maybe my story can help provide some inspiration for others to heal themselves or give a little push of support to launch an idea. 🙂
Many of us are on disability assistance, and I completely respect their need for it. I hope that for their own quality of life, those people can become as physically and emotionally healthy as they can possibly be (i.e., resolving whatever might truly be less-than-optimally-functioning), boosting their energy and mood, finding a physical/mental/emotional balance-state. I also hope they’re able to find a way to turn a special interest into a career or a calling, and that the rest of the world is astute enough to recognize it and reward those efforts sufficiently for that person to lead a comfortable life with minimal stress and zero suffering. And I strongly desire this for every single Aspie/autistic person throughout the world.
Myth: Asperger’s/autism is a pathology/disease/disorder/mental illness that needs to be treated, fixed, cured, and/or prevented. We’re “locked inside a cage”, “desperate for treatment/a cure”, and ashamed to be “broken/defective”.
Predictably, my response is: bullshit. As I mentioned above, the spectrum neuro-type is a neurodevelopmental and neurological variant, possibly determined by genetics, epigenetics, the development environment, and probably other factors (although I have no idea what they are). It is NOT any of those things; it’s not a mental illness, and I think it’s a huge slap in the face that it’s even listed in the DSM the “Diagnostic & Statistics Manual”…for “Mental Disorders”–UGH!. It’s not a pathology, disease, disorder, or defect, nor does our spectrum membership itself need to be “fixed” or otherwise “dealt with” in any way. I’m not ashamed to be on the spectrum. In fact, it’s a relief to know that I am. My partner, who is allistic (non-autistic) thinks it’s wonderful and I think that sometimes, he might secretly wish that he was.
Myth: We’ve been “stolen” by Asperger’s/autism; we’d be “complete” and “better” people without our “disorder”.
Asperger’s/autism didn’t “steal” us any more than allism/non-autism “stole” the rest of the world. Our neuro-type (allistic or autistic) shapes who we are, what we like, how we feel, how and what we think, what we do, how we interact, and every decision we make. It’s a major defining factor in our personality and indeed, our humanity. If you remove the Asperger’s/autism, you remove us, for our identity is built upon its influence. We would not be the same people; we would cease to be us. The spectrum classification is a package deal; you can’t remove the challenging aspects without also erasing the positives (you can tweak them so that the challenges carry less of an impact, but they can’t be waved away altogether). So there’s a neurological divide. So there’s a communication gap. So what? Expand your mind, allistic people, and consider alternative viewpoints (we already reciprocate this effort; now it’s your turn).
Oh my, I’m only about half-done with the myth-related material I’ve gathered. I guess that when I said at the beginning that this will either be long or surprisingly short, it ended up to be the former. If you’re still awake and reading (LOL 🙂 ) I genuinely thank you, and I’ll pause the writing here, and bring you a Part 2. 🙂