Alex Lowery speaks about autism

5 Disability stereotypes

Written on 23rd Feb 2018 by Alex Lowery

I have very often spoken about the myths of autism. However, I have felt for quite a while that every now and again: I don’t just want to raise understanding of autism but other disabilities as well. After all, autism isn’t the only diagnosis I have. I also have ADHD, Dyspraxia and I seem to experience mild tics. Many autistic people as a whole will meet the diagnostic criteria for at least one other condition. Below you can see a list of disabilities and myths about them.

Autism – Let’s get to the most obvious of the bunch out of the way first and that’s a myth of autism. There are many stereotypes of autism, but I’ve found the one that the media seems to focus on most is the ‘genius’ or ‘intellectually gifted’ angle of autism. This take on autism in film and TV has really been done to death now. The most obvious example is Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Rain Man. Sheldon Cooper and Benedict Cumberbach’s version of Sherlock Holmes are also geniuses who are very highly implied to be on the autistic spectrum even if it’s never actually confirmed. There are many other examples in the media of this as well. I don’t think the ‘genius angle of autism’ is bad per say. In fact: I even kind of like how it shows the positive aspects of what autism can bring as well as the negative parts. However, I do think it is about time for a more original take on autism. Feel free to read an article I wrote a while back called ‘We are not all Sheldon Cooper’ for more details on this topic.

Attention Deficits Hyperactivity Disorder – I’m sure there are a whole bunch of stereotypes on ADHD (just like there are on autism) but I’ve come to find three main stereotypes of ADHD. The main stereotypes seem to be that people with ADHD are all male, they’re all children and they’re all badly behaved. A lot of people seem to think that ADHD is nothing but an excuse for naughty boys to misbehave without getting into trouble. All of this is a myth. ADHD is a condition that affects a person’s ability to focus, keep still and think ahead. It doesn’t just affect males and it doesn’t even just affect children. In many cases, the traits will carry on into adulthood. It’s also a myth that all children with ADHD are naughty. When I was younger, I knew a boy who was about 11 with ADHD and he was one of the most well behaved boys I ever knew. I also have ADHD myself and I’ve never really been badly behaved. In fact: through a lot of my childhood I was probably better behaved than a lot of kids my age were. I do know that to this day: myself and many other adults and children with ADHD do have a legitimate difficulty with focussing on a task without getting distracted by something of greater interest. It’s nothing to do with misbehaving at all. It’s to do with the wiring of the brain.

Tourette’s Syndrome – The big stereotype of Tourette’s seems to be this idea that everyone with condition swears uncontrollably. This is actually false. It’s said that only around 10% of people with TS have the swearing type. Most people with the condition will have other words they tend to shout or in some cases: it may just be uncontrollable twitches or grunts and not any actual words. Like most things, TS covers a spectrum and it’s not the same for everyone. But just like ‘the genius type of autism’: the media mostly seems to want to focus on the swearing form of TS and as a result of this: it’s one of the rarest types that people typically think of when they hear about Tourette’s.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD is another condition that a lot of people think doesn’t really exist. Many people start to think they have OCD if they have certain rituals like (making sure the light is turned off every time they leave the house) or maybe that they like to organise their CDs in alphabetical order or something along those lines… They might then start to say “We’ve all got things we’re obsessive about so we’ve all got what one might call ‘OCD’, therefore making it invalid. It’s nonsense! OCD doesn’t really exist!” Again, this is simply not true. Having OCD is definitely more extreme than that. With OCD, you have these negative thoughts that are constantly dominating you. You may take part in rituals because you feel that if you don’t: the whole world will end. It is a very serious condition and to put ‘making sure your CDs are in order for pleasure’ in the same bracket is simply minimising the issues and extreme obsessive compulsions people with real OCD have to deal with.

Physical Disabilities – I know that (like neurological conditions) there are many different types of physical disabilities, but since this topic isn’t something I’m an expert on: I’ll just bring up one myth that I think can be applied to a lot of them. That is this idea that every single person who needs a wheelchair is 100% incapable of walking. I know someone who only needs a wheelchair some of the time to avoid feeling dizzy, I know there are people in wheelchairs who can walk certain distances, but need it after a point. However, some people seem to believe that if you’ve got a wheelchair and even do so much as stand up for a second – that means “you’re faking” which this is absolute rubbish. There certainly are people in wheelchairs who can’t walk at all, but that doesn’t mean all can’t.

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.





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Organisations Alex has worked with

  • Autism Cymru
  • Chester University
  • Glyndwr University
  • National Autistic Society
  • St John's Ambulance
  • Welsh Government

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