A privilege of the work I do? The chance to work with groups who have been given the wrong information about autism.
Other blog posts of mine talk about some of the myths. And the damage done by those myths.
Here, I would like to explore the reactions to the myths.
Let's start with some facts. Autism is not a mental health condition, any more than 'being male' is a mental health condition. It is a permanent difference in the way the brain is wired, from birth. We can spot the brain wiring differences in functional scans. Our brain operates in a different way to that of other people. It's designed to. It's not a 'fault'.
We are designed to sense the tiniest changes in our environment. It would have been a fantastic skill set to have, in ancient times. Generalising, since each person is somewhat different: Forest fire? We're the early warning system. Approaching predator? Yes, we'll hear it first. Poisonous food? We'll detect it first.
The brain wiring is designed for intense detail, intense accuracy, and intense dedication to a task. Want the best craftspeople, the best engineers, the most specialised of any career? Often, it's autistic people doing those roles. Quietly, quirkily, but goodness me, effectively.
In a modern society of deafening noise, blinding artificial lighting, crowding and socialisation, we're at a huge disadvantage. That same brain design literally overheats with the sensory input. It causes real physical pain and disorientation in the brain, when that happens. Some suggest a link to epilepsy events, when it happens. It's not a behavioural condition, where we are alleged to have some 'personality defect'.
Nor is it a 'low IQ'. We are no more likely to have a low IQ than anyone else. What happened is that those who had a low IQ....or a mental health condition...or a behavioural condition....as well as autism? Well, they got noticed and diagnosed with autism first. The majority of us didn't get noticed, didn't get diagnosed. We're still finding the majority of autistic people, living quiet, sensible lives. That's the difficulty. The research, the findings so far? A lot was based on a minority whose behaviour was extreme. 94% of the research was done on children. Nearly all boys. Nearly all with other conditions as well. So, a bit like going to a secure Pupil Referral Unit for children age (say) 8-11 - to find out what an average adult female in the country is like. No, really, that's what the research is based on. As if all of us are just like the most profound examples of 'lively young boys'. Bizarre, eh.
So. When I tell some people that I'm autistic, I am sometimes faced with a barrage of myths.
"Ann is going to be dangerous".
"Ann is not able to keep things confidential because people like her can't do that"
"Ann is a bit unstable, bless her, so don't trust her"
"Ann is going to be nasty. Avoid her"
I could go on. I have many of these, on a regular basis. In writing, too. No, autism is nothing to do with paranoia. We're just keen observers of fact.
Now, the strange thing is that I'm MD of a Professional Practice, and adviser to a vast number of places. I've spent a lifetime working peacefully for safety for people. I am fortunate enough to enjoy the most wonderful business and charity relationships across the UK, and have done for more than 30 years. Well over 1000 business contacts, including most of the major Banks, Solicitors and Accounting firms. Long established relationships of confidentiality, trust, accuracy and integrity. Like most other autistic professionals with whom I work.
And it's not a pleasant thing to find myself in a room of people who treat me like the 'village idiot', or an escaped criminal, when I declare autism. Nor is it appropriate.
I don't want us behaving like this towards any other autistic person either.
What I'd like us to do, as a society, is learn about autism, and learn respect for autistic people. We put up with such a huge amount of nonsense from some people. Not all, of course - many are splendid. But oh my goodness me, there's some treatment towards us that we really could do without. I don't say this crossly. I say it out of concern for what we're losing out on, by the myths. Treatment that assumes incompetence. Treatment that tries to make us into copies of people we're not. And thus a lack of interest in the immense amounts of bullying and abusive behaviour towards us, including the very worst crimes imaginable. "Well, they must deserve it, these awful people", to quote someone I overheard.
If we're looking for people to be afraid of, we're looking in the wrong direction. 80% of autistic people are bullied. 70% of autistic women report sexual abuse of some kind, and 30% report rape. Nearly all have been defrauded by people who pretended to be friends.
Please, my friends, be very careful which myths you 'buy into'. And what the consequences are. Very, very careful indeed. Because a society that is without autistic people is not 'better', and it is not 'safer'. It is vastly worse off, in countless ways. We are not tragedies. We're the people who have made sure your stuff works, and keeps working. We're the people who have stood up for social justice and kept standing up, long after others got exhausted. We're your friends and allies.
Get to know us, and find out about autism.
PS: I'm not 'mildly autistic'. My family include others who are not 'mildly autistic'. I work with hundreds of autistic people of all IQs and ages and situations, and they are all absolutely loved and wonderful. Every one of them with much to share, whether verbal or not. Sometimes I'm not verbal. So, away with the 'oh Ann doesn't know what Real Autism is like' thinking. I do. And I've been proud Mum to a lively one.