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  • Writer's pictureCory Morrison

Examples of Autism Stereotypes That I Find Harmful

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

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It's clear that generalizations can be hurtful with almost everything, and the autism community is no exception. What are some common stereotypes I have encountered over the years within the community and why do I think they do more harm than good?


"All ABA Is Abuse"


As I said in my My Opinion on ABA article, not all ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) therapy is abuse if the right people help the child and the student learns well with ABA methods. Some of the ABA controversy is based on extreme ABA methods such as the electroshock method at Judge Rotenberg Center. That's a rare case. Any ABA program or therapist who uses electroshocking is an absolute no for me.


For people to assume that ABA is always abusive is harmful to ABA therapists, parents who initially decide they want their child to do ABA, and even people who had a positive experience with ABA. The reasons?


  • Every experience is different and one can't invalidate an experience a child has had with their ABA therapists. It is wrong to assume that people in certain professions will allow abuse when it's not always the case.

  • It may prevent parents from wanting their child to do ABA, when their child's case might be suited for it, and can therefore, limit opportunities and outcomes that can make the child achieve so much. Again, ABA isn't for everyone, but it is for some people.


"People on the Spectrum Have No Emotions"


Just because autistic people have more trouble expressing their emotions, it doesn't mean they don't feel them. We feel emotions deeply at times. For example, when my eldest cat passed away a few weeks ago, I was grieving for several days. The difficulty is more showing emotions and empathy than feeling them. Why do I think this stereotype this harmful?


  • Too many people may assume the worst of ASD people when basing impressions solely based on facial expressions and not other factors.

  • It can, unfortunately, prevent accessibility for many including the areas of school, employment, relationships or even the ability to purchase an apartment.


"Autistic People Can Be Intentionally Aggressive"


When it comes to what I have observed about myself and other autistic people, it's true that we can be more blunt and are less likely to give subtle hints, but that doesn't mean we want to be aggressive on purpose. We, and in fact many neurotypicals, just want to get the points across clearly by communicating verbally.


Also, for physical aggression, while I got over this phase of my life long ago, according to Carmen B. Pringee Autism Centre of Learning, aggression is often based on a lack of impulse control. Therefore, if an autistic person is overwhelmed, they might hit a wall without thinking before doing it. Why does this happen? It's because autism and impulse control problems are related to a brain area responsible for executive function. Behaviour inhibition is a big part of it.


The point is? As I said in my editorial from 2020 just before the Toronto Van Attack trial, ASD people rarely premeditate aggression. My reasons for feeling the autism and aggression stereotype is harmful:


  • Some people may think a person with ASD could be unsafe, when many do not intend to hurt others.

  • People who communicate more straightforwardly may get a bad rap, leading to people overlooking subtlety (Subtlety is not always a bad thing) or in worst cases, dishonesty.


"People With Autism Are Always Highly Intelligent or Need Extra Help"


Based on what I have seen over the years in both real life and online, when some people think of autism, they often think of an above-average intelligence person becoming an engineer or a scientist, or they may think of a person who may not be as able to contribute to society and need 24/7 supervision. While it's true that some people on the spectrum exhibit these characteristics, assuming that it's the norm with autism can do more harm than you think. We need to focus on each autistic person individually. Why do I feel this?


  • When one always correlates autism to high intelligence, they may have unrealistically high expectations with this autistic person and get disappointed super easily when they don't meet them. When one gets mad at them for not achieving something or doing something correctly, it can hurt their self-esteem. Example: Being super surprised when the person does not always come up with creative, out-of-this-world ideas.

  • When society almost always assumes an autistic person needs extra help, this can be a red flag with employers when many try to apply for jobs or potential dating partners when many want a partner, as they feel the person may be too much. Many autistic people are perfectly capable of doing these things just as long as they can access them easily. While some may need help in certain areas, it's not always as hard work as people may suspect when they listen to harmful stereotypes. People just need to understand the individual's strengths and weaknesses before they jump to conclusions.


Conclusion


If we focus on autistic people as individuals more than stereotypes we may come across on the media, an autistic person's life quality can improve greatly. Also, if people get the right idea about many autistic individuals or their lifestyles, ASD people are more likely to access things in life that may come easier to neurotypical people. Plus, people may not assume the worst of autistic people or the people who support them, which would then ensure that they live life with higher self-esteems and less resentment.



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