Inaccurate Stereotyping of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"Is it fair to say that some people unfairly stereotype children and teenagers who have an autism spectrum disorder? It seems to me that society views this population as "trouble-makers" or mentally handicapped - and even dangerous (e.g., they get blamed for some school shootings), which is just plain ignorant in my opinion. What's your opinion please?"

Young people with ASD level 1 or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are often viewed largely in negative terms by some. And to make matters worse, this inaccurate stereotyping often leads to inappropriate interventions, which can lead to long-term damage.

Here are some examples of stereotyping. A child with ASD:
  • Can't do things that require social interaction, especially with strangers
  • Dislikes establishing eye contact
  • Dislikes using the telephone, preferring email or person-to-person instead
  • In social situations with a lot of noise and conversations, has trouble hearing and easily gets disoriented
  • Is easily depressed
  • Is not very good at small talk, especially intimate bantering
  • Often assumes that any comments or remarks require a response
  • Often does not care what other people think
  • Often fails to read other peoples' standard body language
  • Often feels rejected if an important project or idea gets a mixed or lukewarm response
  • Often makes others very angry because of the way he or she interacts
  • Often responds angrily to frustrating situations
  • Often says things in conversation that are inappropriate, divergent, or tactless
  • Talks forever, without pause, about favorite topics
  • Usually keeps silent and does not interact if faced with a question or topic that is difficult to answer

Do some children and teens with ASD have some of these characteristics to varying degrees from time to time? Yes.

Do all of these young people have all of these characteristics all the time? No.

It has been well documented that those on the autism spectrum are vulnerable individuals who will face certain difficulties. These are often highlighted by people who see only the negatives rather than the positives such differences could represent. This lack of positive awareness, combined with an inconsistency of knowledge, can lead to inaccurate stereotyping and resultant interventions that are far more harmful than helpful.

The reality is that a children with ASD  are  unique individuals who have a lot of skills and abilities. Yet, they are often deemed incapable of learning; thus, an ability to achieve much in life may be overlooked. 
All too often, the focus continues to be on forcing them to fit into damaging, inflexible environments, which not only prohibits them from reaching their full potential, but also contributes to long-term mental health problems that could otherwise be avoided.

Having an autism spectrum disorder can be worrying and upsetting for all those concerned, but there will be areas in which these "special needs" kids will excel compared to the general population. For example:
  • A sensitivity to sound could lead to working in sound recording or music.
  • With a sensitivity to the taste and texture of food and drink, people with ASD could become great gastronomes and food critics.
  • A sensitivity to visual information can be useful in photography, drawing and visualization used by architects and artists.
  • These individuals are generally free from sexism or racism.
  • They can be very sensitive to the plight of disadvantaged people around the world. 
  • They can use their sensitivity and wider differences to help others who are in the same position as themselves, or act as arbiters and mediators in dispute situations.
  • They have proved themselves to be great innovators and inventors – not only of products, but also of ideas concerning literacy and story-telling.
  • They often speak out frankly and honestly; they are sincere truth-tellers who will tend to follow the rules of the job.
  • Many are intelligent and have high IQs. They may, for example, have an excellent memory for facts and figures, or a good memory for past situations.
  • Many possess powers of deduction that, when coupled with an attention to detail, could be useful in criminal investigations.
  • People with ASD  tend to make very loyal friends.

Little research has been conducted into “gifted” individuals, although those who are described as such often show the same qualities seen in people on the spectrum. Individuals with high IQs question the world which surrounds them. They are usually single-minded and can throw themselves into their work for long, intense periods. These are all aspects associated with the "disorder."

In short, the way these young people think should be regarded as a positive attribute, which the rest of society can learn from. When their differences are embraced, the positives definitely can outweigh the negatives. The goal should not be about “normality,” but encompassing acceptance, love, and communication.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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