The two half Truths about Autism and Society
26th May 2021
Recently we came across a post on LinkedIn which contained two ‘myths’ relating to autism. These were:
- Autistic people will succeed in life if their autism is trained out of them.
- Autistic people should never have their autistic traits trained out of them. They will be successful in life as who they are.
Both are (potentially dangerous) and extremely misguided half-truths.
Please note, this post has been essentially written by somebody with autism. I am just putting it in a different format in this blog.
Let us deal with the first one:
Myth 1: Autistic people will succeed in life if their autism is trained out of them
Well actually, we have been working with a young autistic woman for over a year now who was facing a lot of barriers in her quest to get a job and in building relationships with others.
It took us a while to work out what her underlying difficulties were, but it turned out that she ‘rote learned’ everything (remembered social phrases off by heart and then just repeated them when it was vaguely relevant for her to do so).
This meant she appeared to be understanding what was happening in a social situation when she had not a clue. Her processing is very slow.
The solution was quite simply to teach her how to think and how to do problem-solving. This was done using the interests she had. She loved the work and was well motivated.
The results which started to become visible after a few months were:
- It became possible to have a two-way conversation with her. She was better able to listen and respond to what you said. Before she was simply picking up on keywords and phrases and then saying something back. This was disconcerting sometimes as she would start talking about something completely different than you were during a conversation. This gave the impression she was not listening – not great in a work environment.
- Her relationships with her family improved dramatically. They started inviting her round regularly rather than just occasionally. They started to support her.
- She became much less rigid in her plans and much more able to change them as circumstances changed. As a result, she was able to move into much better accommodation nearer to her relatives when it became available.
- She became able to benefit from a college course, learning English and Maths.
- She has become able to think critically to a certain extent. Her ability to see the funny side of things without having it explained is much improved. She surprised me the other day by thinking critically about something the government did and explained to me why they were potentially misleading the public. I was in shock. Happy shock.
- Linked to this, her interests have widened from very insular, basic things such as her daily routines of exercising and shopping, to much bigger things like politics and spirituality. I am starting to be able to have deeper conversations with her.
- She is better able to manage her anxiety. Although she is still a very anxious person and perhaps will always be due to things she cannot change. However, she is better able to reason through a tricky situation and deal with it rather than go straight into panic mode.
We got the impression from the comments on the LinkedIn post we mentioned above that this kind of intervention we have done would be very much frowned upon and we should have left her 'as she was' and worked to change her environment and worked to educate those around her. We were faced with accusations that we had ‘changed’ her autism in some way and made her more like non-autistic people and that this is bad.
But her life is much improved as a result of our intervention and she is much happier in so many ways. There is no way she could be successful in life 'as she was'.
We know we will get shot down for this by some people, but we find this whole notion of 'disabled by society' and that autistic people are ok as they are and that they should not be expected to adjust to the world around them is just as bad as the notion that all autistic people should have their autism fully trained out of them.
This leads to the next ‘myth’.
Myth 2: Autistic people should never have their autistic traits trained out of them. They will be successful in life as who they are
In some ways this is true. The notion of training autism out of somebody in some cases is absurd. For example, somebody who has over-sensitivity to certain textures which makes them unable to stand touching things of that certain texture, cannot train their skin or their brain to react differently to said texture. Well, they might try, but I do not think we are technologically or medically advanced enough yet to do such things even if they were possible. Even if it were, it would probably be jolly difficult and potentially take a lifetime of working on it.
I think the above myth comes from people who refuse to believe something is ‘wrong’ with them - they are simply different. This does not work for many people with autism though. A diagnosis of autism rests on the fact (amongst other criteria) that the person has social communication difficulties.
Some autistic people argue that these difficulties are a result of society not understanding how the autistic person communicates, and if they did, the autistic person would not have said difficulties. But then if they did not have difficulties, what is the point of having a ‘diagnosis’ label of autism?
Somehow, I feel the people who advocate for this way of thinking would be the very people who would be upset if they had their diagnosis of autism stripped from them and were told they were ‘normal’, which is what would essentially happen if society suddenly accommodated for all their needs so that they did not struggle at all.
Some autistic people may like how their sensory issues affect them. But they are the lucky ones. Many autistic people’s sensory issues are not an enjoyable aspect of their life or their autism.
Aspiedent does not ‘train’ people’s autism out of them. Instead, we try and help people to mitigate against the aspects of their autism they cannot (yet, and perhaps never will) change. We help them to develop and improve certain parts of themselves which are not impossible to change and fit in as best they can in a world where, unfortunately, they are a minority.
‘Society’ is not going to ever fully understand nor cater to every unique individual with autism just like it does not understand and adapt to every unique person in general. Without some sort of miracle, it is impossible and it not going to happen. Everybody has to meet each other’s needs as best as they can and accept that not all their or others' needs will be met fully by others.
Society cannot accommodate for the needs of each individual when those needs conflict with each other – especially when it is impossible to tell what the actual needs of an autistic individual are without asking them. Notwithstanding the fact some people do not want to tell you about their autism because they do not want to be singled out for ‘special’ treatment. Some people also refuse to believe they are autistic, or just simply do not know themselves.
We need some balance when dealing with such important, personal, and sensitive issues. Some peoples’ autism is so disabling they will never have the same opportunities as others regardless of what society does to accommodate.
Please do not get sucked into the assumption that all autistic people are ‘proud’ of their autism or that all autistic people believe they are perfectly fine as they are. Many autistic people do not go along with this.