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Autism Does Not Grant You Superpowers

by Brad Ludwig

The movie, Rain Man , ruined Autism for autistics.

Kim Peek, who was the inspiration of Dustin Hoffman's performance, was truly rare. He was an autistic savant who who remembered details in over 12,000 books he had read. He could read two pages of a book, at once. One page with each eye. His ability to recall facts and figures was unparalleled.

This is not a 'gift' that every autistic is given. Yet, sometimes I'm asked, "So your son is like Rain Man?"

When parents of autistic children gather, they will ask, "So, what is your child's thing?" Which is our verbal short hand for, "What topic is your child fascinated by?" Some autistic children will be experts on dinosaurs, trains, sports or other topics. They dedicate themselves to learning everything they can on a topic that they become obsessed with. They will can talk, at length, about their favorite subject with a level of confidence and authority that is truly staggering.

My son, Alex, has a very hard time speaking. He has reduced sensation in his mouth, so forming words can be difficult. He has gotten much better, with the in home therapy and speech therapy he receives in school. That is part of the reason why I don't really know if he has a 'thing'. Ironically, his thing may be languages. He can speak some words and write sentences in foreign languages.

He wrote creyones on his dry erase board. I wasn't sure if he had misspelled something and just left it on his board. It took me a few weeks to realize that he had written crayons in Spanish. He has asked his school aid for an apple in French, by typing it on a computer. He also knows some sign language, which we use to help in his comprehension of things my ex-wife and I ask or tell him. (My ex-wife has deaf parents and is fluent in sign language. I can 'speak' sign at a 1st grade level, on a good day.) Him knowing some sign language helps him connect with his grand parents. Which is a very good thing. That said, I still wouldn't classify those as savant skills.

He is rare in his own way.

He has the ability to read body language. I can make 'the Dad face' and he knows that he's doing something he shouldn't be doing.
He is very affectionate and loves to get and give hugs.
He has a sense of humor and loves to laugh.
Some autistics never gain these skills.

The bottom line is, every person with Autism is unique, in their own way. They cannot be defined by a character that was in a movie from 1988. You cannot lump them into a group of defined behaviors. Just like any neuro-typical person, they have their own personalities. You need to get to know them to understand them. Just like anyone else.