This is Autism Awareness month, which is about raising awareness about Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and clearing up common misconceptions. One of the most common misconceptions about those who are living with Autistic Spectrum Disorders is that they are unempathetic and incapable of caring about others, yet this could not be farther from the truth. In providing direct care and counseling services to individuals dealing with autism and Asperger’s Disorder, I have found that most clients who live with this spectrum of disorders are some of the most empathetic people that I have met.The misconception about the empathy of this population likely relates to the social anxiety that these individuals often live with. This anxiety, usually caused by several failed attempts to read others and interact or connect with them, often leads this population to give up on trying altogether. Thus, for people who don’t understand Autistic Spectrum Disorders very well, and sometimes even those who do, this population can appear like they just don’t care and are aloof.
Another problem that can feed into this misconception is that many of those who live with this spectrum of disorders end up living a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. It is not a self-fulfilling prophecy in the traditional sense, but rather an illusion as a defense mechanism. Because social failure hurts so bad, they just convince themselves that they don’t need anyone. They can make this quite convincing to others as well, because most people in this spectrum do fairly well while alone. For some, this defense mechanism may work, but for many others it leads to depression and isolation. To cope with these negative emotions, many times it also can lead to secondary issues such as substance abuse.
For those dealing personally with such social issues, seeking a therapist is recommended to help process through the anxiety, and learn self-talk techniques to cope with new, uncomfortable situations. This can help to increase confidence and with practice, success will inevitably occur, and failures will not be as painful. For those who are not living with a disorder in the spectrum, it is important to be patient and understanding of those who are. Gaining a better understanding and getting better educated about the real source of anxiety can help to facilitate social growth and better connections.