7 Weird but Common Questions About Autism

Friends talking to each other Two female friends talking to each other while sitting on sofa at home.
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With all the information available out there on the topic of autism, you'd think folks would have a pretty good idea of what autism is...  and isn't. But of course, that's not the case. In fact, "autism awareness" seems to have set off an explosion of well-meaning but not terribly thoughtful questions about autism.  If you haven't run into any of these yet, chances are you will -- sometime very soon!

  1. Oh, your child has autism – he must be really smart, right?  There are quite a few very bright, articulate spokespeople for autism, and yes indeed – those folks are really smart.  But the reality is that a significant percentage of people with autism are actually intellectually challenged.  While it's nice to know that many people have a positive perspective on autism, it's frustrating to have to cope with mistaken assumptions.
  2. Can my child catch autism from your child?  Autism is often presented as a "disease," and many people associated the word disease with contagious disorders like the flu...  chicken pox...  and ebola. No, autism is not contagious, and no, no one's child will "catch" it as a result of being in an inclusive setting with someone on the spectrum.
  3. So... if your child's autistic, will he be able to go to college and live on his own?  This rather weird but very popular question seems to presuppose that parents of children with autism are secretly time travelers. Plenty of people with autism do go to college, and quite a few live on their own. And many don't. That is, of course, the case with people who DON'T have autism, but no one ever asks the parents of a typical six-year-old whether their child will be attending college 12 years hence!
  1. Are kids with autism kind of like Mr. Spock?  For reasons that are a little unclear, many people associate autism with unrelenting logic and an inability (or unwillingness) to express emotions. This idea isn't completely off the wall.  People with autism are often quite literal and rule-bound in their thinking, and, while people with autism are often extremely emotional, they may express their feelings in unusual ways.  All that said, however, it seems a little weird to compare a kid with autism to a green-skinned, green-blooded alien from another planet...
  2. What's your autistic child's special talent?  Television, movies, books, and magazines love stories about autistic "savants" – individual with remarkable abilities in specific areas of interest.  And it's true: there are rare individuals on the spectrum who are extraordinarily talented in fields ranging from visual arts to coding to memorization to math. It may be necessary, however, to explain that few people with autism are likely to be able to recite pi to three thousand places and that that's probably ok.
  1. Is it hard to have a child with special needs?  This question, usually asked by well-meaning and compassionate people, can be extraordinarily difficult to answer, say "no," and you're saying, in essence, "heck, I LOVE the fact that my child has serious challenges that compromise his opportunities and his future."  Say "yes," and you're complaining about a child you love to a relative stranger – something most of us would prefer to avoid. Of course, the answer is almost always "yes and no, depending upon a thousand factors that change all the time."  That, by the way, is the same answer most parents would give when answering the question "is it hard to raise children?"
  2. Will your child with autism be able to fall in love and get married?  Talk about an impossible question to answer!  No one can answer that question for themselves, let alone for someone else – but that doesn't stop people from asking.  The only really helpful answer I've discovered for a question like that is...  "Well, I know people with autism are very capable of loving."
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