The column, "Practice patience when communicating with autistic people," (Voices, May 8) was good, but it also missed some important facts about autism.
Although the goal of the article was to increase public understanding of autism, it left some misperceptions unchallenged.
As someone with a form of autism and someone who lives with autism day to day, I really want to clear up some of the myths and show that people with autism are valuable members of our community.
First of all, autism is a spectrum. It comes in two parts. You may have a learning disability or a social disability from it. Many on the spectrum have a little of both issues.
The communication part, rather than the sole issue, is only one issue that a person with autism might face.
You have people on the autism scale who range from completely nonverbal to people who can talk but miss the nonverbal cues from others, so they don't know when to stop talking. That's me!
There are also people in-between who are partially verbal. They may exclusively focus on a subject they like and are unable to talk about anything else.
Furthermore, the IQ range for people with autism can vary from a very low to very high. The severity of the autism is unrelated to one's IQ level.
Many people with autism have a hard time with social communication but that doesn't mean that everyone with autism doesn't want friends or to be able to interact with others.
Many people with autism often have a sensory integration problem. They might actually want to be around other people bur are forced to avoid them because of their sensory issues rather than because of their autism.
This can be in the areas of hearing, touch, smell or almost anything to do with the senses. Examples are people with autism who are annoyed by odors that wouldn't bug other people or hear sounds that others can't.
I remember early panics from sounds the fire alarm at school made before going off.
Depending on the severity of these sensory issues, it can directly affect the communication process, as you can imagine. It can also affect how social you are to people and how social people want to be with you!
People with autism often are told they don't have good eye contact as they will not look at you when they are talking to you. They are mostly doing this because of sensory issues and because looking people in the eye is tough. It makes it hard to concentrate on what they are saying to you.
I agree with the May 8 column that you shouldn't infer low intelligence based on verbal ability. But it's important to emphasize that having autism doesn't mean you're mute or that you're slow. People with autism can talk very slowly or talk very quickly.
As I said earlier, there are some of us who talk too much and don't know when to stop. Also, you can't completely blame brain processing speed for a mute response.
There might be other reasons for it. Someone with autism might not like the speaker or even the tone of the speaker's voice, and might choose not to respond as a result.
Or a bad mood and might cause a person with autism to shut down and not respond to the speaker. To interpret a nonresponse as slow processing brain mischaracterizes autism.
In the early days, autism was mainly thought of as a developmental disability issue.
A major reason for this was the communication and social problems that seem to go along with the disorder.
Today, it is thought more as someone who just learns differently, but not someone who can't learn at all. Thus, with the right accommodations, pretty much any autistic should be able to thrive in a classroom setting or a work setting.
They just need to be given a chance to prove themselves!
As a person with autism, I enjoy hearing from people who are interested in talking with me about autism, living with autism or autism awareness. You can reach me at Qkey29@gmail.com.
-- Bill Peters started 3 Rivers Autism Outreach as a way of connecting people with autism and to educate the public about the condition. He was one of the first people in the Mid-Columbia diagnosed with Aspeger's syndrome.