Busting the Myths of Asperger's

The Autism Spectrum is often misunderstood by the general public, with the average person who has heard of Autism or Asperger's liable to think of the character of Rain Man. However, this is a cliché as there is as much diversity among those on the AS scale as there is among the general populace. The range is vast, and you may be working with an Aspie, or be one yourself, without even knowing it. To help clear up misconceptions, here are some of the most common myths, though it’s important to know that not every person with AS will exhibit all the classic symptoms.

Myth #1: Autistic people have no sense of humour

This is a matter of perception. What amuses many Non-Aspies won’t even elicit a smile from many Aspies, and vice versa. Because Aspies usually don’t outwardly display their emotions on their sleeves, it may appear as though they are humourless even if they are “laughing on the inside”. Of course, this does not mean you will never hear them laugh. If something is genuinely funny, along with everyone else they will laugh.

Myth #2: Aspies are cold, aloof, asexual loners in the vein of Star Trek's Mr. Spock

No, this isn’t true either. Part of the problem is that office politics and work or personal relationships are a hypersocial activity with many unwritten rules, which can be confusing to an Aspie. The quiet, introspective person at work or home may not be cold or cruel; he or she may be too shy to say a word. But this does not mean that all Aspies are introverts, many are also extroverts. In general, if it looks like the Aspie is ignoring the group, they are instead observing, and being cautious.

Myth #3: All Aspies have a special interest which is the centre of their universe

Admittedly most Aspies do have a special interest, and in the area of STEM this can be of huge benefit to companies. But this can be true of some NTs too, it’s just usually not as intense. Employers may find that in their particular business area that the special interests of the Aspie employee are the same as the business so that lack of other interests will not be relevant. But there are also those Aspies whose breadth of knowledge is so wide as they appear NeuroTypical.

Myth #4: Aspies do “weird” stuff to make themselves feel better

While it is true that 'stimming' is a part of life for many on the spectrum, it’s usually not as exaggerated as the media makes out. Yes, there are some who have what might look as obsessive 'stims' such as needing to tidy or repeatedly touch objects, but 'stims' can also be more subtle. For example, some Aspies need to walk while thinking, so a trip to the water cooler might be just such a 'stim'.

Myth #5: Autism can be cured or is something people grow out of

Many NTs think that adults do not have autism, or that it is something that can be cured. In fact many adults spend years without knowing they are on the spectrum, and many may never get a diagnosis. As it stands, there is no cure for AS as it is not a disease nor something someone can, or would want to, 'fix'. The main reason it appears that Asperger's isn't common among adults is that adults have a lifetime of experience, not to mention trial and error, to draw upon and subsequently mask the condition which allows the Aspie to appear as NeuroTypical.

Myth #6: Aspies are strict literalists and generally not capable of creative play

This is demonstrably not true as there are indeed very left-brain type Aspies, just as there are in any group, including many who are artists, musicians, writers, and actors. In fact, it's arguable that AS actually gives a person an additional creative streak, as it allows the Aspie to 'think outside the box'. That is where innovation comes from.

Myth #7: Aspies don’t care about others

This is maybe the most harmful myth of all. It has been said (and sometimes by fairly prominent NTs in the media) that AS is just an excuse to be a sociopathic jerk or pain in the workplace. While there may be some sociopathic Aspies, just as there are sociopathic NTs, the main difference is that for most Aspies, being independent and self-sufficient is more important than being liked. However, the vast majority of Aspies desperately want to be liked and accepted into the group. This is a basic human need, it's just that the Aspie friend or employee may just lack the social toolbox needed to get there.