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Addressing common misconceptions about autistic students

MSU Denver honors Autism Acceptance Month through education and with a series of Early Bird articles contributed by autistic students.

By Siva priya Santhanam, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences

April 6, 2021

Silhouettes of three students walking toward Commencement stage.Although we must recognize and celebrate autistic individuals all year, April is Autism Acceptance Month. The Access Center and the Department of Speech, Language, Hearing Sciences collaborated in developing a series of short articles on autism. Three out of the four articles are written by our autistic students.

Despite many strengths, common challenges experienced by autistic college students include explicit and implicit autistic stigma and social isolation.

One way to address these challenges is by increasing our knowledge and acceptance of autism and people on the autism spectrum.

Common misconceptions and explanations:

1. Autistic people don’t like to socialize. They like to be alone.

People on the autism spectrum socialize differently. While some may prefer to be alone (many nonautistic people do as well), many children and adults on the autism spectrum like to have friends. Some people on the autism spectrum may not know how to make friends in a way that appeals to most nonautistic people, but autistic people seek acceptance and understanding like everyone else. Some autistic people may find socializing in a nonautistic way overwhelming because socializing requires a lot of energy. Sometimes, socialization also means masking our social and communication differences. Many autistic people try to mask their true nature in an attempt to fit in socially and be understood by nonautistic peers; this masking may lead to anxiety.

2. Autistic students typically enroll in the STEM majors.

At Metropolitan State University of Denver and other universities, there are students who enjoy and enroll in a wide range of majors including the arts, sciences, business, engineering, education and health care, among others.

3. All autistic people are savants.

There are many autistic and nonautistic geniuses in our world! The term “autistic savant” refers to autistic people who have an exceptional ability in one or more skills. This term has been popularized in television shows and movies such as “Rain Man.” In reality, few autistic individuals are considered savants. Autistic children and adults, like everyone else, have strengths in some areas and challenges in others. For example, one autistic young woman memorized almost all words in the English dictionary but found her college-level calculus class difficult.

Read and learn more about other myths on autism.

Watch the Early Bird for articles by our autistic students during the next three weeks.

Topics: Student Success

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