Ask Reading Kingdom: What can we learn about autism from autistic adults?

Timothy (Educator) asks:
What can we learn about autism from autistic adults?

Autistic adults have already given us phenomenally powerful information about their lives and their experiences. Books written by people like Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison provide great insights into the “world views” of adults with autism. Increasingly we are also seeing books from “non-verbal” (i.e., non speaking) individuals with autism who have proficient literacy skills. Examples are the blog Carly’s Voice and the book Ido in Autism Land. However, in recognizing the importance of these contributions, it is equally important to recognize that we are receiving information from those who are “high level.” The coverage on these remarkable people has been so extensive that I am now commonly asked, “Is it true that all autistic people are geniuses?” Of course they are not. Genius is a rare commodity and by definition, it cannot characterize a whole population of individuals. So naturally the individuals who are receiving the extensive media coverage are not representative of the broader population of adults with ASD.  Still, they are being taken to represent the full population.

The figures are not at all solid but the estimates are that about half the adult population with autism cannot function independently and require extensive support services throughout their lives. In moving forward, it is vital that we be cognizant of all the individuals on the spectrum and not focus on a select few. So to answer your question in a brief form, autistic adults have given us and will continue to give us valuable information. At the same time, it is essential that we consider the total population and do the studies that are necessary to understand the range of skills and difficulties that they display.

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