Breaking common stereotypes about people with autism
It is widely believed that people with autism are not interested in others. Now, a new paper published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences says this is almost certainly wrong.
The authors of the papers, Vikram Jaswal and Nameera Akhtar, are psychologists who study the lives of people with autism.
Most studies suggest that people with autism are happy to be left alone or are indifferent to people. It is true that people with the disorder may appear like they are not interested in others. This is because they avoid making eye contact, or flap their hands, or behave in ways that others find strange. However, the experts say that this does not mean they are socially uninterested.
Many people with autism are very interested in, and in some cases long to make social connections. They feel lonely and want friends.
Autism is a neurological condition that affects how people think and move, and people with autism say that some of their unsociable patterns of behaviour come from these neurological characteristics. Like eye contact. Some people with autism find sustained eye contact uncomfortable or even painful. Others say they find it hard to concentrate on what someone is saying while looking at them.
So, while not looking in the eye may appear like they are not interested, they are in fact trying hard to participate in the conversation.
Another common behaviour is echolalia, where people repeat the same thing. This is how some people with autism connect at a deeper level.
The experts say that by presuming people with autism are not sociable, we are effectively dehumanising them. This is because being sociable is widely considered to be a fundamental part of being human.
Some therapists recommend that parents and teachers attempt to train kids with autism to make eye contact or to stop repeating themselves. But this is difficult for them given their neurological makeup. Forcing them to do so can lead to feelings of helplessness and social withdrawal.
So when someone does not make eye contact or repeats something you said, think about the fact that this might be his or her way of trying to connect with you.