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ASPartOfMe
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26 Jul 2021, 11:52 am

Not Every Autistic Person is a ‘Savant.’ But the Stereotype Has Significant Mental Health Costs.

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My experiences made me feel that autistic people are only valued if they are a ‘genius’ or a ‘savant’ — otherwise, society doesn’t accept us… If you are excellent at something, then all is well; without that, it is traumatic,” Rishabh Birla, 25, said.

His experience deeply resonated with me — even though I didn’t know I was autistic until my mid-20s, the sensory, communicative, social, and motor difficulties resulting from my autism had led me to feel excluded and undervalued my whole life. Until I learnt to mask my autism, the only times I felt valued as a person was when I excelled academically. Even now, sometimes when I tell people I am autistic, I can see them burning to ask me whether I have any “special abilities.” The stereotype that autistic individuals have “super” skills to compensate for their neurodivergence continues to thrive.

Tanuka Ray, a psychotherapist from Kolkata, who is neurodivergent herself, recalls meeting a parent who was disappointed his autistic son didn’t have extraordinary mathematical skills or a photographic memory to compensate for his autism. “It added to his ‘frustration’ with his child,” she says. During her work as a behavioral therapist for children several years back, she mentions coming across yet another autistic child whose parents very evidently favored his neurotypical, younger sister over him because he didn’t have a high intelligence quotient to make up for his autism.

“In school, I was not valued or accepted. But in ninth and tenth grade, when I was scoring excellent grades… suddenly, I was respected, accepted, and valued by teachers, as well as other students and their parents,” Rishabh recalls. He added that people became friends with him in junior college, too, while he was performing well academically, but “drifted away” once he began needing academic support. This impacted his confidence and his sense of self.

A neurotypical society thus only values — or, at least, accepts — autistic individuals when they can either “fit into” its neurotypical norms by camouflaging their autism or compensate for it with “special” abilities. As Louise, a self-advocate for autism wrote on social media, “unless autistic existence benefits neurotypicals, autistic people are not seen as ‘worthy’… [it] tends to put pressure on [autistic] people to behave in certain ways to feel valuable to society.”

In a society that is severely lacking in awareness of the autism spectrum — or even the fact that autism is a spectrum — pop culture becomes the source of information. And in the process, disadvantages actually autistic people.

From Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor, to Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, to Fiona Helbron in Elementary — there are countless portrayals of autistic (and “suspected” autistic) characters in pop culture that depict neurodivergence as a “disability ‘superpower'”. This perpetuates the myth of the “model neurominority” — derived from the term “model minority” coined by sociologist William Petersen in 1966, which refers to positively stereotyping certains members of marginalized groups — setting impossible benchmarks for other members, and creating “inspiration porn” for the non-marginalized.

One of the most successful portrayals of autism on cinema ever was in 1988’s Rain Man, which entrenched the stereotype — influencing collective consciousness for decades to come. “Rain Man’s influence on how autism is thought of culturally is incalculable… Before Rain Man, there was no popular conception of what autism looked like, among the public or on-screen,” an article on The Guardian reads. “But an influence, however benign or well-intentioned, can become suffocating if allowed to flourish for too long.” And, it has.

In fact, writer, Karl Knights, noted that “the film has become such a shorthand, that I and every autistic person I know immediately has to caveat the statement ‘I’m autistic’ with ‘I’m not Rain Man‘”

The idea that autistic people are “extraordinary” might be “well-meaning” but perpetuates society’s inherent ableism — by further “othering” an already marginalized group. “…suggesting autistic people are superheroes or somehow have special powers… [is] a way for… society to ‘other’ us and distance themselves from autistic people,” Louise notes.

Moreover, it is perhaps owing to society’s general discomfort with disabilities — more ableism — that the “autistic geniuses” stereotype has thrived as much as it has. Media assuages a largely able-bodied audience’s discomfort by putting a positive spin on disability by using terms like “courageous” and “inspirational” — the constant portrayal of autistic people as “geniuses” functions the same way.

This was written about India but it resonates here in America, and probably many other places


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HeroOfHyrule
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26 Jul 2021, 12:36 pm

I'm not a "savant" at all and have experienced the disappointment and exclusion from other people due to it, including family members.

My brother is also autistic and has become very good at quite a few things, and it's always been apparent to me that people in my family rather put more effort and attention on him than me.

In school autistic kids/kids with autistic traits who did amazingly in some subject (or multiple subjects) were also treated better despite their issues, and given a lot of attention by teachers, while me and other kids with the same issues, but with almost no academic talents, were just ignored and treated like we were nuisances to teachers.

When you're not a "savant" at anything it becomes very noticeable very quickly that other people don't value you at all, nor do they want anything to do with you.


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carlos55
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26 Jul 2021, 3:24 pm

Sadly i dont think this especially applies to autism, there`s 8 billion people on the planet, unless someone has a unique tallent or ability they are just another person.

The comedian is expected to be funny, when he`s not no one is interested in him.

The model is expected to be attractive when they age no one hires them anymore.

If autistic people are shown by hollywood to have superpowers, when an autistic person doesnt people loose interest.



Mona Pereth
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28 Jul 2021, 9:07 pm

HeroOfHyrule wrote:
My brother is also autistic and has become very good at quite a few things, and it's always been apparent to me that people in my family rather put more effort and attention on him than me.

In school autistic kids/kids with autistic traits who did amazingly in some subject (or multiple subjects) were also treated better despite their issues, and given a lot of attention by teachers, while me and other kids with the same issues, but with almost no academic talents, were just ignored and treated like we were nuisances to teachers.

That's horrible. IMO they should have tried a variety of different teaching approaches with you, to see what would work best for you. Alas, school, even "special ed," is much too one-size-fits-all.

You describe yourself as having "almost no academic talents." But you also say you "enjoy learning + cataloguing information about different types of animals and plants." That suggests to me that you actually do have academic talents, but you weren't taught in a way that could develop them.

EDIT: It is my impression that the vast majority of people do NOT "enjoy learning" -- about anything. I could be wrong, but it has always seemed to me that most people will learn whatever they need to learn as a means to an end -- to get good grades, or to acquire a marketable skill, or to get laid -- but, in their spare time, they just want to party, or be passively entertained. Therefore, anyone who actually "enjoys learning" is potentially a very exceptional person -- and, if such a person is somehow left behind academically, that's a terrible tragedy IMO.


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choeft2018
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28 Jul 2021, 10:04 pm

In one video Dan at AspieWorld was reading comments his viewers had sent in. One of them was "I assume you're good at math". He didn't seem to realize it but that was probably referring to the stereotype that all autistics are math savants who can tell you Pi to the 200th place.



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28 Jul 2021, 11:37 pm

I see two distinct sets of issues here:

1) Those of us who don't have exceptional skills should still be treated with basic human dignity.

2) At the same time, I believe that many autistic kids are potentially very talented at math and related fields, but the educational system hasn't yet figured out how to educate them to anywhere near their full potential.

Later I'll post my reasons for believing #2 above.


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Benjamin the Donkey
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29 Jul 2021, 7:11 pm

I hate the concept. An autistic person with exceptional ability at math, music, art, science, etc. is a "savant". An NT person with the same ability is just very good at math.


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Edna3362
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29 Jul 2021, 7:50 pm

Never resonated.
Not even the specialist stereotype as much as I may fancy becoming one.

As much as I get pissed at my parents talking about my 'disabilities', I'd be just as pissed at my parents talking about my 'abilties'.

Not because I lack any 'knack'; but because I don't use the focus the same way.
I do not resonate with rigidity -- my culture won't allow it so.


I would want something new in media in hopes of finding something I've yet to articulate.
Not the woke crap or SJW kind of new, of course.


Regardless...
It's not very relevant here.

Because whether or not an autistic here had anything that resembles any 'special skills'... :lol:
It won't be found. It may never be acted upon. Let alone encouraged.

Because the norm here has the mentality around lack of accessibility -- therefore... "Their autistic child won't be a savant unless they're rich". :P


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Mona Pereth
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29 Jul 2021, 9:49 pm

Benjamin the Donkey wrote:
I hate the concept. An autistic person with exceptional ability at math, music, art, science, etc. is a "savant". An NT person with the same ability is just very good at math.

"Savant" is a euphemism for what used to be called "idiot-savant." A more up-to-date term for the same concept is "twice exceptional" (2E) -- a person who is developmentally disabled in some way (autism, specific learning disability, whatever) but also exceptionally talented in some way. Another term is "spiky ability profile."


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Benjamin the Donkey
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30 Jul 2021, 10:51 am

Mona Pereth wrote:
Benjamin the Donkey wrote:
I hate the concept. An autistic person with exceptional ability at math, music, art, science, etc. is a "savant". An NT person with the same ability is just very good at math.

"Savant" is a euphemism for what used to be called "idiot-savant." A more up-to-date term for the same concept is "twice exceptional" (2E) -- a person who is developmentally disabled in some way (autism, specific learning disability, whatever) but also exceptionally talented in some way. Another term is "spiky ability profile."


I'm old enough to remember "idiot-savant." Whatever the term, I don't like the concept. Why can't I have an exceptional talent without that being somehow tied to, or in spite of, my autism?


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30 Jul 2021, 11:09 am

Mona Pereth wrote:
Benjamin the Donkey wrote:
I hate the concept. An autistic person with exceptional ability at math, music, art, science, etc. is a "savant". An NT person with the same ability is just very good at math.
"Savant" is a euphemism for what used to be called "idiot-savant." A more up-to-date term for the same concept is "twice exceptional" (2E) -- a person who is developmentally disabled in some way (autism, specific learning disability, whatever) but also exceptionally talented in some way. Another term is "spiky ability profile."
Another term I have heard among Hollywood script-writers is "Magical Aspie" -- a person with an ASD who imparts the special insight that enables the protagonists to solve the Big Dilemma.  He or she may even be "Psychic", with perceptive abilities that can only be classified as supernatural.  This has not occurred much in the last decade or so, but seemed prevalent when Asperger's Syndrome first became known to the general public.  Nowadays the term is used mostly to point out the use of this trope as a Deus Ex Machina when scriptwriters have written themselves into an otherwise inescapable corner.


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Mona Pereth
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30 Jul 2021, 11:54 am

Benjamin the Donkey wrote:
I'm old enough to remember "idiot-savant." Whatever the term, I don't like the concept. Why can't I have an exceptional talent without that being somehow tied to, or in spite of, my autism?

Because parents, pre-school teachers, kindergarten teachers, etc. will see a child's autistic traits before they see the child's abilities. They will see the kid's autism before they even have any opportunity to see any obvious manifestation of the kid's abilities. Therefore, without the idea that autistic (and other developmentally disabled) kids have a significant chance of being "savants," or "2E," or whatever you call it, their parents and teachers would have no reason even to remotely consider the idea of looking for, identifying, and trying to develop the child's strengths at all.


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30 Jul 2021, 1:41 pm

Edna3362 wrote:
It's not very relevant here.

Because whether or not an autistic here had anything that resembles any 'special skills'... :lol:
It won't be found. It may never be acted upon. Let alone encouraged.

Because the norm here has the mentality around lack of accessibility -- therefore... "Their autistic child won't be a savant unless they're rich". :P

And that's the great tragedy. IMO it needs to become standard practice for special ed teachers to keep an eye out for, and seek to develop, whatever strengths an autistic or otherwise developmentally disabled child might have.


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simonthesly74
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11 Sep 2021, 4:32 pm

Personally, I’ve never been hit with this, but I know this burden is a reality for many autistic people. I feel like the savant stereotype is more associated with some form of classical autism, and since my diagnosis is Asperger’s, that’s not really what people expect of me (the Aspie stereotype is more of a tech genius/inventor). Though I can’t really say I’ve ever been hit with the latter, either, probably because I’ve been raised in such a progressive environment.

At any rate, my most savant-like characteristic is seemingly my impeccable knowledge of animals (primarily mammals). Anyone who’s gone to the zoo with me will be blown away by how I have a fact to share on just about every bird and beast we encounter. As a friend once said, in response to a video from the zoo, “you know so much about animals, it’s scary.”



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11 Sep 2021, 6:48 pm

it seems varying types of exceptional abilities go very un-noticed, including and even as they grow up and possibly go through school . Not all abilities fall under the guise of academic abilities.
i have seen this first hand in my birth family . Before , not having words to describe what has happened around me . Until i had a grasp on what autism was . Apparently my parents were conditioned to try to hide these issues from the public at large . Having a late diagnosis and doing
piles of research on myself after so many years of not understanding why the world treated me as they did. And my younger sister , whom was a bit further on the spectrum And much younger.. Being persons my parents would rather hide than nurture . And my Sister being non verbal .. there was much abuse .
But it did not go un- noticed to me . And eventually got my parent to send her to a special ed school.
Inspite of her not being verbal . This thing i noticed was she was , her ability to quickly do 800 and
higher jigsaw puzzles in a hours time with in 6 months of learning to assemble her first 6 piece jigsaw puzzle. It did not occur to me what i was seeing at the time As i was just trying to survive the situation myself. Having older male siblings whom were prone to violence . Both in retrospect seemed very NT like to me. Even still, to this very day. Whom have intentionally lost contact with remaining surviving members. It might be a unrecognized and nothing special but have found in myself after spotting clearly in the one other younger autistic friend i have seen clear autodidact
abilities . If i am allowed not to be threatened or badly stressed . And can focus . It has served me incredibly well over the course of my life. And in many ways other little things . idk if this is any thing significant .


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