Autism misconceptions distort public view of the spectrum

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Makayla Garfield

Students of various backgrounds chat as a group without a difference between students who are neurotypical and those who aren't.

Mackayla Garfield, Reporter

According to utahautismregistry.org, in Utah 1 out of 58 children this year will be diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). To put that in more perspective, imagine a history or even a math class with 40 students. At least one of those students is likely to have some form of autism, be it high-functioning or low-functioning.

With something seemingly being more common than one may think, one may assume that people may have some knowledge or ideas about the disorder. However, the truth behind that may be more surprising than one may think.

Susy McCallin (real name withheld) said, “I don’t really know much. I just know it can make some kids act out a little. I want to know more.” Most students answer in a similar way when asked about autism.

Autism is actually something that people don’t quite understand. Especially the high-functioning or Asperger’s syndrome end.

Jason Benzon, a 27-year old who lives with high-functioning autism, said, “There are times where I act. I follow the patterns of neurotypicals and so a lot of times I come across as being neurotypical (people without the disorder) because I act. And so I got really good at- even in high school- I got good at just doing what’s kind of expected, so sometimes it is really hard to tell with high-functioning.”

John Mitchelson (real name withheld), who also lives with high-functioning autism, said, “People think they can just see if someone has autism, and with high-functioning, they don’t think they actually have it.”

High-functioning autism is where a person with autism can act and behave as any neurotypical person and so it can be hard to distinguish between someone who really has autism and someone who doesn’t as Benzon himself stated. Some parents and peers of an autistic person may, in fact, assume that the person in question may just be pretending or faking to have something wrong when in truth there is something actually wrong.

Another assumption that some may come across as seeing or possibly thinking, is that a person with autism may in a way suffer from it.

Mitchelson said that, “I’d say I have [autism] and not necessarily suffer from it. Suffer to me is a little bit of a strong word if it’s towards autism.”

One final assumption one may have that both Mitchellson and Benzon say they both have encountered is that autistic people are stupid or perhaps less intelligent than neurotypicals. This is something that both Mitchellson and Benzon disagree with.

Benzon said, “It’s actually quite the opposite. The thing I love to study is music and anything that involves it and so that’s for on my free time what I love to do. I read books after books on audio. So, like my friend, who called it like a disorder or a handicap, they don’t really see that you know, we spend so much time studying what we love.”

Sondra, a CNA who works regularly with low and high-functioning autistic people, said, “They are intelligent, amazing, loving humans. You can learn so much from them.”

Mitchellson often described his interests as his “hyper-focuses” during his interview, showing that their special interest do become their prime focus. Just because an autistic person becomes “hyper-focused” does not mean that they cannot learn or focus on other things.

Mitchellson later said that, “Even though I don’t like [other things], I know I must focus on it.” However, he later also added that he does find it hard to focus.

When approaching someone with autism about something, one of the best things to do is ask about how to approach something with that person. Both Benzon and Mitchelson said that a blunt question is how they respond best and in truth, they do not find it offensive.