Steve Gundy beside text that reads "Rethinking Autism with Stephen Gundy."

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) covers a range of neurodevelopmental conditions marked by challenges in social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and communication. Historically, autism was greatly misunderstood, often stigmatized as a condition that needed to be cured or hidden away. Over the decades, significant progress in medical research and increased media exposure have led to an improved understanding of the condition with each individual showing a unique set of skills and challenges. This shift from assuming that autistic individuals are the same to asking how each person is different and unique has helped foster greater empathy and support within communities.

Importance and Relevance in Today’s Society

Where inclusivity and honoring uniqueness are increasingly valued, understanding and shaping societal attitudes towards autism is not only  critical, but a wonderful opportunity to see the life of an Autistic individual as a gift to the community. Positive societal attitudes can significantly enhance the quality of life for individuals, promoting social acceptance and creating lanes for education and employment. However, misconceptions potentially create narrowing lanes that contribute to social isolation, struggles with mental health, and limited access to supportive services. Understanding misconceptions and the truth that challenges the misconceptions is not only relevant but necessary for developing policies and practices that support the well-being of individuals with Autism. Let’s discuss four common misconceptions.

Misconceptions about Autism

Misconception number one. “Autism is the result of inadequate parenting”. This is what was originally thought of as the cause for autism when it was first observed in 1943.  The conclusion was the mother used a cold, uncaring style of parenting and traumatized her child. The child consequently retreated into autism.  The phrase “refrigerator mother” was used to represent the cause for autism. Thankfully, as autism was studied more, psychologists realized that autism is a neurodevelopmental condition and is not at all correlated with inadequate parenting.  The assumption that autism is the result of inadequate parenting is wrong thinking because it dismisses the neuro complexities that come along with the condition and places an unrealistic performance expectation on parents. While parenting shapes our kids’ thinking, values and behavior, parenting is not meant to solve neurological challenges that come along with special needs. What is appropriate to assume is that parents of autistic individuals experience magnified levels of stress due to the unique challenges associated with the neuro complexities that are compounded onto raising and supporting a child. The magnified stress that becomes visible in the community reflects the need for support and resources. This serves  to assist parents with effective coping with the demands of caring for their autistic child during formative years and well into adult life.

I have had the wonderful privilege of raising both a typical daughter and an autistic son. Parenting both of them came with unique challenges considering gender, personality and environmental circumstances. But the added neuro complexities that came along with my son’s diagnosis of autism added extra medical and therapy appointments, addressing his needs for education, educating family and friends, and responding to my son’s personal needs. The variables were extensive, multilayered and constantly changing, creating situations that needed responses and were always evolving. That left a deeply felt level of fatigue that came with doing so much on his behalf! I don’t regret doing any of it, but my personal experience has taught me that support for parents is needed equally as the support of a parent’s diagnosed child. The support given to a parent IS support given to an autistic individual nor matter what age or stage in life that individual is living. That’s because parents are parents for life!

Misconception number two. “Autistic people have behavior problems and lack empathy.” The truth is there are many factors that contribute to behavior problems and it is inaccurate to place a behavior challenge solely on Autism. The truth is individuals with Autism live with specific needs and find it difficult to communicate and access their needs effectively in certain circumstances and consequently behavior challenges become more visible. This requires support rather than conclusions and judgment. Support, in many cases, is removing what is causing the stress and offering acceptable choices, so improved behavior can realistically follow. This is also applicable to emotional understanding. Just because an autistic person has difficulty expressing or articulating emotions in conventional ways, doesn’t mean autistic people aren’t capable of experiencing and understanding emotions. We all are human, so in reality, Autistic individuals usually have the same emotional needs that a typical person has. The universal need for love, understanding and relationship is essential to the human brain and is foundational for everyone  no matter what special needs a person may have. Remember, the autistic person isn’t broken and needs to be fixed, but needs to be seen as doing life differently and in need of support, so he or she may move through their day more smoothly in the way they are built to do it. 

Misconception number three. “Autistic people are rigid and unable to adapt to change.” It’s true that autistic people find comfort in their routines and predictability. Predictable routines provide a sense of stability and security in a world that is overwhelming due to sensory sensitivities or social challenges. But it doesn’t mean that adapting to change is impossible. The key is to identify the boundaries that surround an autistic person’s comfort zone and ask, “How does stepping outside of the comfort zone impact the ability to adapt to even the smallest of changes?” Once that has been identified, introducing the change and calling for adaptation is done in agreement with the individual and in a palpable amount of change that the individual’s capacity can handle. Remember, expectations matter and influence the ability to adapt to change. That means thinking about your expectations in terms of how much, how long and why an individual would fulfill an expectation matters. In other words, my autistic son must have a reason that makes sense to him to step away from, for instance, his screen time to do anything and with an expectation that is understood in a measured amount of quantity and time that doesn’t overextend his capacity for meeting the expectation. It requires slowing down, exercising patience and allowing a pace that works, so rigidity is reduced and adapting is more realistic.

Misconception Number 4. “People who live on the spectrum are the same.” Autism manifests differently for each individual. Studies such as those published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reveal a vast range of abilities and challenges among those diagnosed with autism. It’s why the term “spectrum” is used. The difference goes from those who require significant support in daily activities to those who are highly skilled and semi-independent. Recognizing this is crucial for tailoring education, therapy, and support to fit the unique needs of each individual rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Shift your thinking by looking at it this way. I am diagnosed ADHD innattentive type. When I started my journey I went online for resources to identify usable methods for organizing myself to address my challenges living life with ADHD. I identified the strategies. What I didn’t realize is the strategies identified were based on how people living with ADHD were the same. When the methods I used failed, I concluded I was a failure without asking myself first how I was different even from others who lived with my same diagnosis. Once I answered that question and observed how I actually learn and do things, I found the way I actually organize myself was consistent with the way I am uniquely built.

Reframing Autism: Not a Condition to Be Cured, But Difference to be Lived:

The perspective that autism needs to be ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’ reflects an outdated view that does not align or honor autistic individuals in terms of who they are as valued people. Neurological differences include challenges, but they are different challenges than what typical people face. The challenges are unique and, by comparison to the challenges of typical people, the challenges autistic people face are magnified in both complexity and intensity. Simultaneously, I am convinced that behind any perceived weakness is an offset strength looking for the right context where thriving is possible to the capacity the autistic individual is able and willing to do. That’s why people on the spectrum deserve our acceptance, understanding and support. Keep in mind support also includes assisting the autistic individual with meeting expectations to the extent their capacity allows. A life coach who is equipped to understand the challenges and identifies strengths can assist with implementing a measured plan of action and can help create forward movement in your autistic loved one’s life.

For tailored support and expert guidance, learn more about our Autism Coaching services or click the connect button below to set up a call with Steve.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *