Debunking the main myths surrounding Aspergers

There are a lot of myths surrounding Aspergers which make life a lot harder for those of us living with it on a day to day basis. In this post, my aim is to explore these myths and then explain what the truth actually is.

Myth Number 1-people with Aspergers are prone to acts of violence. This opinion has become more prevalent since the atrocity that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. Adam Lanza, who committed this awful crime, was reported widely by the media to have a diagnosis of Aspergers. Since then, there has been a lot of mistrust and fear of people with Aspergers, particularly in the United States. 

However, the majority of people with Aspergers that I know condemn Lanza’s actions just like everybody else. What he did was wrong and evil-no matter how much someone is suffering in their personal life, there is never an excuse for a crime like this. People with Aspergers are not inherently violent-indeed, in a recent discussion held on the Facebook group “Adults With Aspergers Syndrome” about this very topic, the majority of people in the discussion had never been violent to another person in their whole life. There are different personality types associated with Aspergers, just as personality differs in people who aren’t on the spectrum (but that’s another myth I’ll come on to later) and a significant number of people with Aspergers, including myself, are passive and dislike, even fear, confrontation. We would do absolutely anything to avoid inflicting pain on another person yet we are viewed by others as “dangerous” and “unstable”. Indeed a large majority of people with Aspergers have experienced or are still experiencing extreme levels of bullying, leading, in some cases, to suicide (as the Autism Memorial site I link to on my blogroll shows), and also Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most of the time, these victims don’t fight back. Luckily I have not suffered in my personal life due to this highly damaging misconception that we are all violent and unstable but just reading through the relevant discussion on the Facebook page I’ve just mentioned shows that some people with Aspergers living in the United States have experienced active discrimination since last December (I’m not going to mention the specifics on here as I haven’t checked that it’s OK but it’s on the Facebook page) because people fear us. You don’t need to be scared of us-we are people just like you who happen to have issues with social interaction, non verbal communication, sensory processing and obsessions-that’s all.

Myth Number 2-people with Aspergers lack empathy.

There are actually different components to empathy. There is cognitive empathy (the ability to perceive what another person is thinking) and affective empathy (sensing how another person is feeling emotionally). Many people with Aspergers, including myself, at times, struggle with cognitive empathy and score lower than people without Aspergers in this area when undergoing psychological tests. However, we tend to score the same or higher in tests which involve affective empathy. Most of us do recognise emotions both in ourselves and in other people-this spans across the whole autism spectrum-even some people diagnosed with severe autism recognise tears and respond by showing kindness. Indeed, a common thought in the autism community online is that, far from not feeling emotions, we actually feel them more strongly than other people and therefore are so overwhelmed by other people’s emotional states that it comes across as not caring because we don’t know how to express what we are feeling. A lot of people with Aspergers are actually very sympathetic and compassionate people-we may not always show it in the “normal” way but that does not mean that we do not share other people’s pain or indeed happiness. A common way of responding to distress, for example, is to hug the person who is in distress. I personally struggle with this because I don’t really “do” hugs and, when I do, they are awkward which usually makes the other person feel worse so I try to help verbally instead. However, just because I don’t give people hugs when they are upset, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care or can’t see that they are upset.

Myth Number 3-all people with Aspergers are Maths/Computing geniuses.

Whilst this myth is not as damaging as the other two mentioned so far, it’s still infuriating especially for someone, like myself, who struggled with both of these at school. It took me 3 attempts to pass my Maths GCSE (taken at the age of 16 in England) to a level that would allow me access to university. Whilst there are a proportion of people with Aspergers who excel at Maths and an equal proportion who are computer whizzes and settle in jobs in this industry, there is an equally large, if not larger, proportion of us who aren’t good at either of those things. It should be remembered that, for a lot of people with AS, Aspergers isn’t the only condition we have-I have dyspraxia, for example, which often involves poor Maths skills. Others have dyslexia or dyscalculia which can also affect someone’s ability in Maths. I have lost count of the number of people who, when told that I have Aspergers, instantly say “Oh, are you amazing at Maths then?” although, as the years have gone past, people are beginning to realise that there really is no such thing as a typical person with Aspergers as we are all so different. My particular talent is language and, at school, I excelled in English. Aspergers comes in many different forms and being talented at Maths is only one of them!

Myth Number 4-all people with Aspergers are the same.

This is frankly amusing! It’s the equivalent of me saying “all people who don’t have Aspergers are the same”. Yes we do have specific traits that form the diagnostic criteria (although it now just comes under ASD Level 1 in the new DSM but that’s a post for another day) but, other than that, any 2 people with Aspergers are as different to each other as any 2 people without Aspergers. There are extroverts and introverts in our community. There are people with Aspergers that never stop talking and people with Aspergers who can stay silent for long periods of time. Even the core social difficulties affect people in different ways depending on other aspects of their personalities. For an extrovert, for example, they can mean getting misconstrued as “rude” because they have been dominating a conversation whereas introverts can be misconstrued as “boring”. Misconceptions are very common and do a lot of damage to our self esteem so please try and understand that we are all different and that we have our own personalities.

Myth Number 5-people with Aspergers are rude.

The rudeness thing is not deliberate-we simply see things in a different way. Everyone with Aspergers that I have come across, both on and off line, has a tendency to be very honest and, when people don’t always want to hear the truth, it can be misconstrued as intentionally rude and hurtful. People with Aspergers don’t usually see the point in actively lying-I certainly take things at face value and so communicate in the same way. Most of us are not intentionally rude and get upset when we discover that we are thought of as such. Over the years, my social skills have improved to the extent that I haven’t been described as “rude” (well, not in earshot anyway!) for several years but I know how confusing it is to be described as such when, to me, rudeness implies intent and there was never any intent to make people feel bad with some of the things I used to come out with.

Myth Number 6-people with Aspergers don’t make good friends.

I have a lot of friends with Aspergers and we get on fantastically. People with Aspergers, as long as they haven’t been mistreated for so many years that they become cynical and lack trust in others which unfortunately happens too often, are very loyal friends. I know that I would do anything for my friends (as long as it’s not making a phone call for them!) as I appreciate them having made the effort to get to know me and all my eccentric little ways. I like to think of myself as a fairly decent friend and I would describe my friends with Aspergers as decent friends. If anything, living in a world that often shuns people with social difficulties makes us appreciate highly the people who make a difference and don’t judge us harshly for the little mistakes that we make but explain them in a way that makes sense to us so that we can avoid making the same mistake next time.

These are the main myths that come to mind. Of course there are many others that people extrapolate from knowing one person with Aspergers and assuming that this person’s characteristics apply to everyone with the condition but I have to get on with my day so I am focusing on the most common and damaging ones. I leave you all with one reminder-if you’ve met one person with Aspergers, you’ve met one person with Aspergers.



7 Responses to Debunking the main myths surrounding Aspergers

  1. Joseyjo says:

    Well written Steph x

  2. Debbie Williams says:

    Well done Steph, you have done so well and you should be proud of yourself, I really do feel your writings should be published as so well written and would help others. Xx

  3. sjmarsh2013 says:

    Thanks ladies 🙂 xx

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