Many conditions will have physical/visible symptoms, for example Down`s Syndrome – and of course this can bring its own share of misconceptions. Autism though is generally something that affects people internally, and while it is possible for people who are autistic to sometimes recognise another autistic person without having to speak to them, for the most part neuro-typical people cannot do this. Autistic people face a lot of challenges due to the fact that some people think if something cannot be seen it does not exist. That is why this particular myth, which is still quite prevalent, can be so detrimental to autistic people.
The phrase `it has to be seen to be believed` is unfortunately representative of so many attitudes in today’s society. In a similar way to the discrimination people with mental health issues can face, autistic people are often regarded with extreme suspicion due to the fact that their particular condition cannot be seen other than in the way they express themselves. Whether this is in day to day life, for example having to deal with people saying autism doesn’t exist, and that the traits of it are simply bad behaviour, or in applying for things such as benefits, and being regarded with the utmost suspicion by whoever is interviewing them. Because people can’t tell somebody has autism by looking at them, they can’t make allowances for that person’s behaviour, or way of expressing themselves, unless the autistic individual specifically tells them that they are autistic.
There is also the matter of people being told constantly that they don’t look autistic. While some neuro-typical people may well mean this as a compliment, it is actually offensive as it simply means that this person does not conform to the stereo-type that the speaker has in their head. If the word autistic is substituted for any other word that describes any particular group in society, the true offensive impact will be seen.
If people believe that autism does have some physical trait this in itself may not be harmful to autistic people; the people can be corrected, realise the error of their ways, and be more informed from then on. The problem arises when people choose to claim that autism does not exist because it cannot be seen. This viewpoint can be harmful for autistic people and their families – not least because it makes them out to be liars, but also because it insults their parents ability to raise children, and the very moral fabric of the autistic person`s life. This is why the myth that autism has some kind of physical symptoms or features needs to be debunked.
There has always been a lack of understanding, and a fear of things that take place completely in the mind/brain: Autism, learning disabilities and mental illness chief among these. And it is this lack of understanding, and fear that can create so many day to day problems in the lives of the people who live with these issues, or differences. A simple increase in understanding and awareness could help so many people, and make the world easier for people with autism to live in.