Five myths about autism we need to banish from teaching Gemma Corby
17th October 2017 at 12:03
In the latest post of her fortnightly Sendco column, Gemma Corby separates autism facts from the myths
Thankfully, the past few years have brought about greater awareness of hidden disabilities. This includes autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or, perhaps more appropriately, autistic spectrum condition (ASC).
However, greater awareness of ASC has not come with increased clarity: several myths about ASC still prevail. That can be very damaging in schools; in this blog, I aim to do my best to bring some clarity for teachers.
Myth one: Asperger's is 'mild' autism
Autism and Asperger's are the same, although Asperger's has become synonymous with high functioning ASC. As such, it has been observed that some people prefer the label Asperger's, believing it offers more cachet.
The reason for the development of the two terms is historical. In 1943, Austrian-American psychiatrist Leo Kanner published an English language paper on autism, which he labelled "infantile autism". At roughly the same time, Austrian physician Hans Asperger published his paper Die Autistischen Psychopathen (1944), which (as you have probably worked out) was written in German.
I am not sure if you know what was going on in the world in the first half of the 1940s, but without going into details, suffice to say that the English and the German-speaking worlds were not on the best of terms. As a result, these two ideas developed separately, although they are the same.
Asperger's is not mild autism, and it is important to recognise this, as neglecting to do so can have serious consequences for the young people with this diagnosis.
Myth two: Individuals with high-functioning ASC find life easier
Young people with high functioning ASC may be more adept at learning strategies to help them fit in. However, this takes a great deal of energy and individuals can experience severe anxiety and stress.
If I had a pound for every time a parent/carer told me that their child is completely different at home than at school, I would be able to retire. Similarly, if I got an additional pound for every time a teacher innocently remarked "but they seem fine at school", I would be able to see out my retirement at The Dorchester Hotel.
The truth is, many youngsters with high-functioning ASC spend the whole day navigating what is to them a puzzling, frustrating and sometimes frightening world; doing their best to fit in and not be "caught out". They may also find it hard to express when they do feel overwhelmed or anxious. When they get home, they can relax and let out all of their pent-up stresses, which can present itself in the form of rather challenging behaviours.
Young people with a diagnosis of high functioning ASC may appear fairly normal to their peers, however, their occasionally odd behaviour could make them vulnerable to teasing. They may also struggle with emotional regulation, and this could present itself in the form of angry outbursts, particularly if faced with an unexpected change.
Young people with high functioning ASC may also be very aware of their difficulties, which in turn may distort their perceptions of social situations – making them seem especially sensitive. Executive planning skills can present a challenge; homework can therefore become an area of contention.
Last but not least, all of these challenges unsurprisingly can take their toll, leading to many young people with high functioning ASC experiencing anxiety and/or depression, which can severely impact their attendance and progress at school.
Myth three: ASC mainly affects males
Thankfully this myth is gradually being dispelled, although it is the case that a greater number of males have been diagnosed with ASC compared with females.
According to the National Autistic Society, various studies in conjunction with anecdotal evidence suggest male/female ratios range from 2:1 to 16:1.
However, there is now growing recognition that different diagnostic criteria for women and girls is required. It has been suggested that the current criteria has an historic bias towards males. For example, the presence of repetitive behaviour and special interests is part of the diagnostic criteria for ASC, yet the interests of girls on the spectrum are often very similar to those of their peers and therefore do not stand out.
The National Autistic Society explains that it is the quality and intensity of these interests that differentiate these girls/women from their peers, as opposed to the nature of their interests.
Myth four: People with ASC are geniuses
This myth has been perpetuated within popular culture, thanks to films such as Rainman and high-profile people with a diagnosis of ASC, such as Stephen Wiltshire, "The human camera". However, ASC is a spectrum condition affecting people with a wide range of cognitive abilities and from all backgrounds.
Myth five: ASC is a learning difficulty or a mental health issue
ASC is a developmental condition. The National Autistic Society estimates that between 48 and 56 per cent of people with a diagnosis of ASC do not have a learning difficulty. It could be that the ability of a person with autism to learn is affected by extreme anxiety, regular periods of absence from school and/or difficulties with collaborative learning.
Likewise, autism is not a mental health issue – it is a hidden disability. It is possible that someone with ASC may find their mental health is affected if they feel socially isolated, or if they are subject to bullying. ASC can make the world seem like a confusing and frustrating place, which can naturally cause distress.
With these common myths now dispelled, I will be exploring some useful strategies for supporting learners with ASC in my next post.
Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School, Norfolk. Her Sendco column for Tes runs every second Tuesday in term-time
In America nearly one in 100 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, a staggering increase from only 20 years ago, and babies and toddlers are now routinely tested for evidence of this brain disorder that is mainly characterised by an inability to socialise and communicate.
Series, 2012, United Kingdom, English, Documentary, Real Life
And the myths article you posted is interesting.
What would you say are the truths about autism?
For you, how do you think it effects you most, in what ways do you consider your way of thinking is different from a person without autism?
Do people with autism get on better with each other rather than with people without autism?
What kind of traits in others attracts you, or do you find appealing. What kind of personality appeals to you, and what kind is intolerable?
How would you like people to behave towards you idealy, what kind of communication appeals/turns you away?
I look forward to your response, I thought if I could try to understand you more it would help how I interact with you.
I am genuinly interested, and i know I can tend to forget it is possibly not straight forward in all things here.
I know you are intelligent and that sometimes makes people forget you may see things very differently.
You can whip out something very incisive and then turn around and play simple simon baby games, confuses people.
I see it has verbal gymnastics and it doesn't bother me, you just like to run around in whizzy circles sometimes
I relate it to how I treated sports, never seriously, I thought we were supposed to 'play' got kicked off teams when I got bored down the no action end and danced or whatever.
Is that relatable?
I don't know much about autism, so my knowledge is limited.
The main truth of autism is that it is life long and can not be cured by not vaccinating. There are some parents who obsess over curing their child so that they can become normal.
Another truth is that if you have met one person with autism you have met one person with autism. It's a spectrum, and personality and life circumstances play a big role too.
And another truth is that even the experts in autism do not fully understand it. Every day there are new articles coming out about the latest theories regarding autism, new ways of educating children who have autism, and helping adults with autism.
I think my autism affects my social and thinking aspects of my personality. Social because of trouble reading body language in the real world. Like it's not that I can't read body language. I can. But only from like a youtube video and google references. However life does not have a remote control button so that is tricky for me. Eye contact is hard for me too. It can be very overwhelming.
And of course making and keeping friends is difficult. But to be honest i'm not too worried about that. I really only need one friend in my life. That's enough for me. I mean the only real friendship i ever had was with inigo and that was just online. i felt i could be myself with her. plus i like talking to her. the same part of my brain that lights up when i listen to a tina song is the same part of the brain that lights up when i talk to inigo. i know real life friendships are meant to be more fulfilling. but an online friendship is perfect for me. Well it would have been if i wasn't attracted to her. though she wasn't totally blameless. anyway i do hope i can be friends with inigo again. my last few interactions with her have been encouraging.
I get stuck on rigid thinking. Which can be great when I'm doing my writing or toastmasters because I can concentrate on those tasks well. Plus with my obsessions in regards to Tina Arena can inspire creativity. However my rigid thinking can sometimes lead to arguments. Which I guess is fine here on these forums because i strongly believe forums are made for robust discussion. But in the real world arguing can often lead to real consequences which i why I try to curb that. Plus of course the thinking over inigo.
Also with my thinking i replay scenarios over and over in my head for hours and hours on end. Whether they be good or bad things. Trying to analyse the meaning behind them and all that.
There are probably other things that affect my aspergers but those are the two main areas.
My way of thinking is different to someone without autism for the rigid thinking ways i outlined above. I'm not sure in what other ways i think differently. i never thought too hard about that.
i guess my strongest thinking areas are in creativity. i'm trying to improve in reading people. i don't know how good reality shows are for doing that since it is so heavily edited. but i try to learn. and fail. and try again. until i kind of get it. plus doing online dating and reading about it has taught me some things.
i don't think people with autism get along better with people with autism but they might understand them better? well not everything, because people are complex. but they might understand someone who has these obsessive interests or is not so good at eye contact?
because autism is a spectrum it might be hard for someone high functioning to get along with a non verbal low functioning autism person i think.
the kind of personality/trait i am attracted to is a Lynda Day type personality from press gang. Argumentative, has a particular sense of humor that other people might not get, endlessly curious, wittily cutting yet not in a bitchy way, can be obsessive over things, has a vulnerable side hidden behind several steel doors and a twenty four hour armed guard.
the kind of personality that i despise is people who are weak in character, who form an opinion based on what another person has told them because that person is a more powerful personality. who have no sense of humor. who are bigoted.
I prefer online communication because i have time to think out my answers.
I do not like speaking on the phone. I never know when it is my turn to speak.
I have no real preference how people interact or behave with me. I can only control how I behave or interact with people.
The downside of being an attractive woman
JANE Curnow believes being attractive is a curse. She’s lost friendships and hasn’t held on to a lasting relationship. She’s not alone.
JANE Curnow is slim, blonde and beautiful. To an outsider, she physically has it all. For her personally, it’s been a long road to self-confidence. Along the way, she’s found that being attractive can be pretty ugly.
“After my second marriage ended, I entered the single scene and quickly realised just how much attention men were giving me,” she said. “I’d get constant looks and comments, and felt like men were undressing me with their eyes.
“Women were (and still are) jealous and resentful towards me but, at the time, I didn’t put it down to my looks and their own insecurities.”
While jealousy towards Ms Curnow became the norm, she never expected it to extend to her friends.
“I’ve lost many friends and always thought it was my fault,” she said. “I didn’t attribute it to my looks until my 30s, when so called friends walked out on me in bars because of the male attention I received.”
At the age of 32, and after years of suffering, Ms Curnow was diagnosed with depression.
By the age of 40 — still single and childless — she believed her life was over. It wasn’t until she recovered, that she realised how much her appearance had impacted on this mindset.
“On reflection, I realised the power of my appearance, but the resulting feelings were not of pride or happiness but of incredible pressure,” Ms Curnow said.
Jane Curnow says she didn’t realise it for many years, but the pressure of her looks made her unhappy. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
“I asked myself; If I’m as good looking as everyone says, then why am I so unhappy? Why aren’t I living the dream?”
With friends, family and professionals telling her she was beautiful, Ms Curnow became obsessed with maintaining her figure and looks to achieve happiness. She quickly learnt that was not the answer.
“If you don’t love yourself without the body and looks, this doesn’t change when you do. In fact, it only highlights how much you hate the person inside,” Ms Curnow said. “You end up attaching your self-worth to the outside which is the wrong way around.”
Working as a fitness model and lifestyle coach, she is now empowering other women to find and embrace their inner and outer beauty, in the way that she finally has.
Unlike Ms Curnow, author and confidence coach Katinda Ndola, 44, embraced her beauty from a young age. She described herself as a woman many women love to hate.
“I became aware of my looks in my teens and felt so confident that I went to modelling school,” she said. “Beauty is the bomb and, if you’re lucky enough to have it, it’s like winning the genetic lottery.”
Conversely, Ms Ndola said her looks caused her to be cautious of people’s intentions when she first met them, and she was aware that women felt threatened and men found her intimidating.
She was also conscious that people assumed her success was down to her looks, rather than talent. Despite this, Ms Ndola refused to change and said she wouldn’t lower her standards for others.
“I’ve made myself happy with who I am and what I look like, and if I change that in any way then I would just be unhappy,” she said.
Katinda Ndola has embraced her beauty, but knows many people won’t take her seriously because of it.Source:Supplied
Research has suggested how appearance positively impacted on success and happiness.
A series of experiments by the University of Michigan found that good looks equated to better pay and better social skills, as well as being perceived as more capable by employers.
Similarly, another study found that physically attractive people were perceived as more dominant, sexually warmer, mentally healthier and more intelligent than physically unattractive people.
Yet, there was very little literature or research around the disadvantages of beauty, perpetuating the idea that all that glitters is indeed gold. Subsequently, our perception of people’s looks can be skewed.
“We’re very visual people and it only takes a few seconds for people to make their minds up about us,” health and wellbeing psychologist, Marny Lishman, said.
“When people automatically don’t like a person, based on their looks, it could be for a variety of reasons from feeling threatened or intimidated through to a bias acquired through their life.”
Ms Lishman noted that both sexes could be judged on appearance. However, it was more strongly reflected in women in a negative way. For men, it tended to be more of an advantage personally and professionally.
“Attractive women can be discriminated against and disrespected at work. They might not be taken seriously or receive the recognition they deserve,” Ms Lishman said.
“They can also become lonely as friends can sometimes get jealous, or potential friends may get too intimidated.”
Ms Lishman said that, if you were in this situation, it was best to try not to take it personally when you’re discriminated against. Remember it’s often about the other person and their own ego, not you.
Similarly, she said that if you’re personally not feeling that you’re being treated well by others, then they’re not the right people for you.
“Find a new set of people that make you feel good and stick with them,” Ms Lishman said. “Beauty is about feeling good about yourself on the inside, as well as the out.”