There are a lot of misconceptions circulating about individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In order to fully meet the needs of students with ASD and support them in inclusive classrooms, it is important to have accurate information about their strengths and challenges.
MYTH: Everyone with autism is either non-verbal or a savant.
FACT: ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that occurs on a spectrum. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ASD is characterized by 1) deficits in social communication and interaction across contexts, and 2) restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
These impairments, however, vary widely in terms of severity, impact on daily living, and effects on classroom performance. Language deficits, for instance, can range from impaired social communication to poor comprehension to a lack of speech entirely.
Some adults with ASD are able to live independently, while others require a great deal of support. The diagnosis of ASD covers a broad range of functioning and includes the former diagnosis of Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder.
While the media tends to portray the extreme ends of the autism spectrum (think Rain Man), individuals with ASD have a variety of strengths and needs (Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2017).
It is important for teachers to provide students with personalized interventions that are based on their unique pattern of needs rather than the diagnosis alone.
MYTH: Children with autistic spectrum disorders cannot form loving relationships, or cannot love with the same degree of warmth and intimacy as others.
FACT: With a comprehensive, affective, relationship-based approach to intervention, children can learn to enjoy closeness, warmth and intimacy, and can love others very deeply.
When autism was first identified as a disorder in the 1940’s, it was thought that the fundamental problem in autism was an inability to form intimate, warm relationships.
This concept has persisted in all the subsequent definitions of autism. But clinical work with children diagnosed with ASD has shown that when we apply the DIR/Floortime approach, following the child’s lead to focus on the child’s natural pleasures and build interactions off the child’s pleasures, we see that the first element that responds is the sense of relatedness.
This sense of relatedness, in the shared smiles, shared joy, shared pleasure and the deep sense of mutual belonging to one another, comes in relatively quickly with appropriate treatment.
Children with ASD can love as deeply as any other child, and many can love even more deeply than most. We believe that the primary challenge for children diagnosed with ASD is in the communication of their emotions, not in the experience or feeling of warmth and intimacy.
MYTH: People with autism are best suited for jobs that entail repetitive tasks.
FACT: Since autism is a spectrum disorder, there is no specific type of job that will be appropriate for all individuals with ASD. While many adults with ASD may enjoy repetitive tasks, it is incorrect to assume a job is a good match solely based on a disability label.
Individuals with ASD have many diverse strengths, talents, and skills that would benefit employers. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate is estimated to be between 50% and 75% for adults with ASD, and many of those who do have jobs are underemployed (Hendricks, 2010).
One reason for this is that individuals with ASD often lack the social skills necessary to be successful during job interviews and in the workplace. Specialist erne is one organization devoted to helping individuals with ASD find and maintain employment.
They match employees with ASD with a coach who guides them through the social situations encountered at work (Cook, 2012). Ultimately, it is important to take into account the strengths, needs, interests, and preferences of the person pursuing employment.
This has important implications for teachers working with students with ASD. Students should have an opportunity to explore various career paths throughout their school years, and educators should not limit students’ options simply because they have ASD.
Transition plans should be created with the students’ skills and interests in mind. In addition, teachers should not rule out college opportunities for their students with ASD.
Teachers have a responsibility to help students develop skills (including social skills) that will enable them to be successful in their chosen post-secondary education and/or career path.
MYTH: Children with autistic spectrum disorders cannot empathize with others; they do not have “theory of mind” capacities.
FACT: When working with a relationship-based affect approach tailored to the child’s individual differences, as a child’s language and cognitive abilities improve, so do his theory of mind and his ability to empathize.
The children who have done very well following a treatment program are very capable of high levels of theory of mind (the ability to understand that other people have independent minds of their own, which allows a child to think about other people’s perspectives, as well as his own), and high levels of empathy.
In fact, we have a subgroup of children originally diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders, many of whom are described by parents and teachers as having probably a little better empathy than their age peers who never had developmental challenges in the first place.
They are highly warm, empathetic, caring individuals with friends, and they are also doing well academically. This is only for a subgroup, but it is a significant subgroup. It shows what is possible with the proper program.Right Start, Inc.
Is an Early Intervention agency and Autism Spectrum Disorder/ABA services provider that was founded in 2002 to provide therapeutic services to children with developmental concerns.