February 6, 2014

But He Looks Normal - Autism Misconceptions

There are stereotypes and misconceptions about everything, and autism is no difference. When most people hear the word autism their first thought is Rain Man. Even I'm guilty of misconceptions because I was uneducated. Since Nikolai's diagnosis we're forced to separate reality from fiction. Even though we're just starting this journey, we've already been met with myths and misconceptions that we've had to set straight. 

Misconception: Are you sure he's autistic? But he looks normal...

There's that word "normal" again. Exactly what do people mean when they say that? Currently there are approximately a little over 7 billion people in the world - how can anybody know what is "normal"? What is autism suppose to look like?  When Nikolai is in any environment such as daycare he looks like every other kid. He acts like every other kid - he plays, runs, draws, naps, and eats [which is his favorite & how I know he's my kid]. At this age even if you spent time with him you probably wouldn't know anything was "off". Autism doesn't have a "look". 

Misconception: So he's like Rain Man?

While it's still early, I highly doubt he is. Sorry I won't be telling you about his special talent that makes him a savant. But don't be mistaken because he's still a rockstar. Every parent thinks their child is a genius, it's in our job description. 

Misconception: Autism is a mental disorder

Autism is a biological illness that affects the brain's growth and the way it develops. Social behavior, communication and restricted and repetitive actions are the three areas that seem most affected. But there has also been studies that show people with autism also have gastro-intestinal problems, allergies, and food sensitivities. So much more can be affected than just the brain. 

Misconception: Autistic kids can't build social relationships

Autism is a spectrum disorder - meaning that there are a wide variety of capabilities. In our situation, Nikolai is able to built social relationships. It might take him a little longer to warm up to people and get involved, but once he does he has no problems. Our current babysitter brings her two kids sometimes and he enjoys playing with them and having them around. He doesn't know how to voice his frustration so sometimes he may hit, but he has social relationships. 

Misconception: Autistic people would rather be alone

False. Autistic people may not know how to approach others, but that doesn't mean they'd rather be alone. Nikolai is capable of entertaining himself in his room while we clean but he's much happier when he's around people to interact with. 

Misconception: Autism prevents people from being able to express or understand emotion

By looking at our expressions Nikolai may not understand what we are feeling (he's still too young to know for sure), but if he sees me crying, he'll bring me tissues, he dances because he knows it makes me happy, and when I get frustrated he senses that too. He has no problem expressing his emotions either. When he's happy he laughs, when he's sad he cries, when he's frustrated he'll throw a tantrum, and when he's mad he'll hit.

There are many more misconceptions out there, and I'm sure we'll run into them. It's important to remember that you can't just bundle autistic people into the same group. They are not all the same. Each person is worth getting to know, because they're oh so very worth it. 

If you've seen one kid with autism - you've seen one kid with autism.

I've realized I really do need a new camera so I can actually take decent pictures!


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