A Winnipeg business leader is sharing some of the myths surrounding autism to allow people to better integrate those on the spectrum into society. 

"As the prevalence of the autism spectrum is increasing, we need to have greater awareness and create a society that can allow people on the spectrum to feel like they belong, and are able to find productive and meaningful places within society," says Anne Kresta, President and Executive Director of Level it Up. "The goal is to draw attention to the fact that we have amazing people in our society, in our world, our families, our workplaces who have these amazing qualities and perspectives on life."

Kresta not only runs the company Level it Up, but she has a few sons on the autism spectrum.

"[Level it Up] began its operations back in 2018," says Kresta. "What we do is offer training and assessment services to skilled individuals on the autism spectrum who are job seeking and experiencing barriers."

Autism can present differently in people, from high functioning to non-verbal.

"Autism is fundamentally a neurodevelopmental difference. It affects information and how you experience the world."

There are many myths surrounding autism and how people on the spectrum function.

"One myth is that people on the autism spectrum lack empathy. That's definitely not the case. If anything they feel empathy much more acutely. It's their ability to express it that's different. Often they can't show outward signs of experiencing that empathy. But if you're able to communicate with them through words or music, they are in fact experiencing those feelings."

Another myth about people on the autism spectrum is that they don't want friends. 

"While many don't need to have 24/7 proximity of someone in their space, they do want to have relationships with others. As human species, we all thrive when we have those relationships. It's a matter of figuring out what will work best for them."

The third myth that Kresta deals with often has to do with working. 

"People may think they can't hold down a job or live independently. It's all about the supports and services that are provided to help them become successful."

Recognizing Autism

According to Kresta, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to spot or recognize autism in their child or children. 

"As parents, you almost develop a gut instinct that there's something not quite right here. Whenever you have that gut instinct, ask a medical professional or seek an assessment."

While there is a wide range of behaviours to watch for on the spectrum, Kresta shares a few things to recognize. 

"Some of the classic signs are lack of eye contact or not wanting to engage in reciprocal behaviours. Also, being really set in a routine and having a difficult time if the routine is changed. Others are if they get a fixed interest and they can just dive into that interest and they can know everything there is to know about that interest. Then, social communication. They miss social cues."

Girls and women in particular can be slightly harder to diagnose because they can 'mask' their autism by copying other people's behaviour. 

"Let's say they're in a stressful situation and they don't enjoy small talk, but they know that to fit in with this clique that they want to join, they have to engage in small talk. So while it's really stressful for them to do that, they'll do it just to be more socially successful. The energy required would be much greater than it would be for you or I."

Asperger Manitoba and Level it Up are hosting a gathering on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day. The celebration is happening at Manitoba Possible and people attending must pre-register.