Dispelling Common Misconceptions About Autism

Autism, formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a condition that describes a spectrum of developmental disabilities. Individuals with autism typically struggle with speech, interpersonal relations, emotions, and social skills. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 59 children born in the United States have ASD, and boys are four times more likely to have it than girls.  

7 Misconceptions About Autism Explained

Despite its prevalence, there are still many common misconceptions about autism. But parents who suspect that their children are autistic need clarity, especially in the early stages of diagnosis and treatment. 

Here are seven common myths about autism.

1. Myth: Vaccines cause autism.

Truth: Vaccines do not cause autism. There is no known single cause.

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper that suggested the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine) triggered autism. His research was quickly determined to be fraudulent, he was found guilty of ethical violations, and his medical license was revoked. Subsequent studies proved his research was, indeed, wrong.

According to the Autism Society, no single cause triggers autism. Researchers believe it is a neurological disorder, as they have observed physical abnormalities in the brains of people with ASD. Studies also show that genetics and other chromosomal disabilities tend to be linked to autism.

2. Myth: Kids with autism don’t feel emotion.

Truth: Kids with autism feel emotion, but express it differently.

While some autistic kids struggle with expressing or recognizing emotions, this does not mean that they do not feel emotion. Often, emotion is communicated through facial expression. Because making eye contact can be quite stressful for a child with autism, communicating and recognizing emotions this way becomes difficult.

But, autistic people still feel anger, love, sadness, joy, and more; they express these emotions in unique ways. Parents of children with autism have to learn how their child shows emotion and how they are comfortable interpreting it. The same goes for adults with autism and understanding how they express their range of emotions.

3. Myth: Autistic children won’t experience meaningful futures.

Truth: Autistic children can grow to engage in meaningful relationships and hold down a job.

Many erroneously believe that people with ASD have no chance to experience employment, marriage, or self-sufficiency. While basic abilities might initially be a struggle, it does not mean that there is no hope for their futures. In fact, with the right intervention, support, and therapy, autistic children can grow to become happily married, employed, and independent.

Mental health experts suggest that parents should team up with professional therapists and school officials to provide their children with effective support and the best chance for a bright future.

4. Myth: People with autism are violent.

Truth: Autism does not cause violence.

Unfortunately, some highly publicized tragedies have noted that the perpetrators happened to be on the autism spectrum. This has led to the misconception that autistic people are inclined to be violent. The truth is, no evidence exists to substantiate such a claim.

According to the Autism Society, people with ASD are more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it. Those who do act aggressively are commonly responding to something else. There is no link to planned violence.

Additionally, the Stockholm Youth Study examined the medical and legal records of over 300,000 adolescents and young adults. According to their findings, autism alone does not increase the likelihood of an individual to commit violence.

5. Myth: All people with ASD have “special gifts” or savant abilities.

Truth: People with ASD have varying skill sets and abilities.

The media has portrayed autistic individuals as having above-normal abilities – just think Rain Man. But, the truth is that people on the autism spectrum can display a variety of different abilities and skills. The percentage of autistic people with savant abilities, or extraordinary skills, is only about 10%, according to the ARI.

Children with autism have a wide range of IQ scores and skill sets, and every child is different. Some kids with ASD demonstrate significant strengths, such as high intelligence or advanced memory. These strengths often have an opposing weakness, though.

In many cases, autistic people develop strengths in particular skills or abilities because they are interested in them. Some individuals may take comfort in the structure and order of the activity. Their exceptional knowledge in certain areas can be a reflection of the amount of time they have spent focusing on them.

6. Myth: We are in the midst of an autism epidemic.

Truth: The definition of autism and diagnostic methods have changed.

While it is true that autism diagnoses are on the rise, it does not necessarily mean that there are more cases of autism than there have been in the past. The increase is better explained by a broader definition of autism and more efficient diagnostic methods.

Autism diagnosis has been expanded to include all autism spectrum disorders, which covers a wide variety of symptoms, severities, and conditions.

For example, before 1980, autism was not considered a diagnosis, but a trait of schizophrenia. Over time, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) has expanded its description of autism. DSM has reduced the number of traits that doctors need to identify to diagnose a patient as autistic.

7. Myth: Autism can be cured.

Truth: There is no cure for autism, but treatment is helpful.

While there is no cure for autism, early intervention can go a long way to help children overcome developmental delays. Most of these children go on to live a happy and, in some cases, independent lives. There is no mass treatment for autism and the treatment plan for each child is as unique as the children themselves.

Myths about “the cure” for autism likely come from stories of people who were diagnosed with autism as a child and were no longer diagnosed with autism as a teen or young adult. 

According to Autism Speaks, “We do know that significant improvement in autism symptoms is most often reported in connection with intensive early intervention.”

Dispelling Myths About Autism

Sifting through the enormous amount of information and resources available about autism can be overwhelming. Parents should remember that they are not alone. Ask for help – from your child’s medical team, school officials, and friends who care.

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