If there’s so much happiness around autism, why is it frequently portrayed as a problem?

For us, there’s so much to celebrate and so much happiness that comes from being around autistic people.

Open the newspapers or talk to some people with ASD and the view is usually gloomy and negative. Our founder Richard Nurse asked through Quora ‘why it’s so hard to find the positives in Autism?’ Here’s some of the great answers we received.

“I think it also has to do with the fact that the majority of information about and research of autism is focused on the negatives: the problems autistic people have, a.k.a what we don’t have compared to the rest of the population. This gives an image of deficit, and perpetuates the idea that someone with autism is “less than” or has less abilities than typical peers.” Vanessa.

Bryony thinks that there’s a very simplistic view of autistic people:
“The only ‘positives’ of Autism (as viewed by neurotypicals) are those that are highly stereotypical. I don’t actually possess any of the ‘good’ attributes as deemed by society, such as having an extensive and wildly in depth knowledge of a subject. The only ‘useful’ attribute I think I have is I can really empathise and ‘feel’ other people’s emotions.”

Lucy Rose looks for the positives:
“I experience things in a lot of depth. I won’t lie this can be a bad thing- but it can also be a good thing. I think with autism as cliche as it sounds, sometimes it can be a case of the negatives sometimes switching to positives. Life is far from easy but there are positives, you’ve just got to try and find and realise them.”

Ian has a different view, pointing out that the first Autistic support groups in America were established when “autism” was only applied to people with the most severe needs:
“Mild cases of autism were not identified as autistic, but lumped into a completely unrelated group: the “difficult child”, which might include those with undiagnosed ADHD, bipolar disorder, sensory processing disorder, etc. “Autism” back then was a child with no speech, intellectually disabled, very unregulated emotions, no social interaction. So you have severely disabled children, and the need to raise funds. How do you do it? You tell everyone how terrible this disability is in lurid detail, and then ask for a donation. The autistic people are never the speakers, never the agents, just the passive recipients of caring from “normal people”, who are the stars of the show. So the narrative is from non-autistic people to non-autistic people: “autism is terrible, but we are doing marvellous things to care for those helpless autistic people. Please donate.”

Personally, we’ve had nothing but great help and support from Autism groups and organisations but that post certainly made us think.  

Getting responses from people with ASD takes you down startling, vibrant, unusual avenues that I’d never noticed, let alone explored. Here’s Yvonne:
“The same word, ‘autistic’, is used for an immense nonlinear complicated range of conditions, too; this has some advantages since many folks have unique mixes of pluses and challenges. Discussing positives might make people who are feeling very challenged feel worse; I’m not certain what to do about that.”

AB believes that it’s hard to be positive because of the constant pressures on people with autism to fit into a society and its rules:
“Autistic people experience a lot of things differently from NT’s [Neurotypicals – people who don’t have autism]. Sensory perception, emotional regulation and identification, worldview, are all things that are very different experiences for autistic people. Our parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, classmates, partners find it very difficult to understand why we need the things we need, and do the things we do. For this reason we spend a lot of time being denied validation, being told that we’re just crazy, that we just have negative attitudes, that we bring it all on ourselves, that we’re just focusing too much on something stupid, that our interests are unhealthy.”

Jessica has also experienced the same issue of society’s rules hampering autistic people:
“Until I started meeting and connecting with other autistic people, I mostly only saw the negatives too. Here’s the thing: It’s hard to find the positive in something when 1) everyone around you is telling you how horrible it is and 2) the world around you is built for people who are not like you.”

Adel, the mother of an autistic son, thinks it could be improved with patience and understanding:
“In my opinion, many people (Neurotypicals) still lack understanding about how an autistic individual’s brain works. It’s hard for them to communicate with Neurotypicals because it takes time for them to process words in their brain. They need time to think of that word in order to be able to respond to what the other person is talking.”

I can definitely relate to that! Many a time I’ve spoken to Freddie and not given him enough time to respond – the answer’s in there, it just needs some time to be formed in his mind and spoken.

There are so many positives though as Skye, another Mum of a child with autism, puts it beautifully:
“Such an amazing perspective. There are words he [my son] puts into a sentence that don’t belong, but it makes sense… different perspective on things are what us neurotypicals need to hear. After all the world would be a very boring place if we were all the same.”

Final word goes to Thomas, someone who was diagnosed late in life:
“What comes naturally for many of us, is a quality that is rare in many people. Try to realize that everything carries positive and negative qualities. Autism poses many challenges and to some they are very difficult issues indeed. But these same traits also make us exceptionally good people. That is something to be proud of. So there is one aspect of being autistic that is truly a gift.”