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Vive le Difference!

By Lisa Jo Rudy, Autism Guide

One of the trickiest aspects of discussing or writing about the autism spectrum is that there is so little we can say about “people with autism” that holds true across the board.  People with autism are highly intelligent and intellectually challenged; they are hyper-verbal and non-verbal; they are ultra-sensitive to light and sound or less sensitive than most.  Some are savants; most are not.  Some are subject to a wide range of physical issues, others are perfectly healthy.

Even when we talk about what people with autism have in common – delays and challenges in social interaction and communication – those commonalities run the gamut from slight to absolute, and look different in almost every case.

In order to write about or discuss autism, though, we have to say SOMETHING – and over time, certain “truisms” about autism have been shared so often that they’re assumed to be universally accurate.

The problem is, they aren’t.

Recently, I was reading a book that described people with autism spectrum disorders as systems-oriented, mechanically inclined, good with machines and computers, and unable to think creatively.  Of course, this is true some of the time: SOME people with autism are indeed terrific with machines, computers and systems – and rotten at creative expression. On the other hand, however, my son has little interest in systems, machines and computers – but enjoys writing poetry, making up stories, and improvising on the clarinet.

I’ve heard over and over that people with autism are visual learners – and, in fact, entire classrooms are set up on that assumption.  The problem is that while SOME people with autism are visual learners, many are actually kinesthetic, mathematical, musical or naturalist learners.  As a result, the very classrooms set up for their “special needs” ignore their actual learning styles!

Lists of “best careers for people with autism” focus assume a lack of creativity and focus almost entirely on use of machines, repetition and close observation (lab tech, stockroom worker,  library staff, database management, etc.).  Yet many people with autism have made a name for themselves as writers, public speakers, photographers, artists, musicians, designers, and even inventors.

I haven’t come up with a useful way to actually describe “people with autism spectrum disorders,” as I honestly believe such a description would be as tough to manage as a description of “women” or “men.”  That is, people with autism are radically different from one another, though they do have a few describable commonalities.

Read in Full:  http://autism.about.com/b/2010/09/09/stereotyping-people-with-autism.htm



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