Comic Shows What People Misunderstand About the 'Autism Spectrum'

August 26th 2016

Most people have heard of the Autism spectrum, now a Tumblr user has created a comic to make sure they actually understand it.

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Rebecca Burgess, a woman based in the U.K., told The Mighty in May that she put together a detailed comic strip featuring a character named Archie in order to help others "understand that autistic people don’t all fit a stereotype, and show people the consequences of stereotyping." She said such blanket assumptions can lead people to underestimate the talents and skills of those with autism.

For example, she highlights the issue of viewing the spectrum as ranging from "not autistic" to "very autistic" because measuring a person's autism can send that individual confusing messages about what they can handle:

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In a situation like this, someone with autism who might have previously been viewed as high-functioning could be moved to the "very autistic" end of the spectrum:

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The comic notes that people with autism have different traits, interests and abilities, which vary throughout the spectrum. As such, they cannot all be lumped into a single category:

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As noted by Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, the spectrum is vast, and every person with autism experiences it in their own way. For example, one individual with autism may struggle with social situations while another person with autism may have other issues associated with the disorder that are not centered on their social skills.

"[Autism spectrum disorder] can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances," Autism Speaks writes on its website. "Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art."

"Each individual with autism is unique," Autism Speaks continues. "Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and 'atypical' ways of viewing the world. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About one third of people with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means."

Burgess' post has thousands of shares and reblogs on the platform:

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Experts have also cautioned against spreading misinformation about autism.

Earlier this year, Dr. Tristram H. Smith, professor of neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, hosted a Reddit AMA and wrote that he is particularly alarmed by the number of "unproven treatments" for autism that people buy into:

"In my work, I've been most concerned about how many unproven treatments there are. I think it's important for people with Autism and their families to find trustworthy information about what is being scientifically shown to be helpful and to be able to get access to those treatments. Mainly what works are specialized behavioral and educational treatments that focus on improving social communication, and addressing other issues that may be associated with Autism, such as anxiety or sensory sensitivities. In some cases, certain medications can also be helpful with these associated issues."

The following month, ATTN: interviewed Dr. Smith about autism and noted that comedian Jerry Seinfeld once came under fire for suggesting that he is somewhere on the autism spectrum, a comment Seinfeld later recanted. Dr. Smith said that even though it's good to see people speaking openly about possibly having autism, there are still a lot of misunderstandings about autism that people have to be careful not to spread:

"On the positive sign, it's a sign of increased awareness and acceptance that people would go out of their way to say they have the disorder. On the other hand, there are all sorts of misunderstandings about what autism is. To have people kind of shooting off the hip and saying that somebody has autism or that they themselves has autism adds to those misunderstandings. So that is a problem, I think."

You can check out Burgess' full comic on Tumblr here, and you can watch The Mighty's YouTube video version of the comic below:

[H/T The Mighty]

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