Autism spectrum disorder is often misunderstood. Ensuring we dispel these myths about autism is critical so that people with autism spectrum disorder obtain the resources and support they need to improve their quality of life.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder is generally referred to as autism or ASD. Autism spectrum disorder is mostly diagnosed in children, but some adults can be diagnosed with it as well.
Autism is also more commonly diagnosed in males, especially males during their childhood, as compared to females. However, more and more is being learned about autism in females. Although sometimes autism is thought of as only being something experienced by boys, it is also experienced by girls.
Since no two individuals with autism are the same, it’s imperative to consider autism as a spectrum. This means that symptoms can appear vastly different from one person to another. For example, there are people with autism who are not verbal, or they don’t communicate vocally with spoken words, while others may be verbal and very expressive with the use of words or vocal language. How autistic traits are displayed in any individual varies widely from person to person.
Service providers, medical providers, educators, the larger community, those on the spectrum, and those who care for these individuals, can benefit from learning more about what is and isn’t true about autism. We will explore some common myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder and provide you with truths about ASD related to these myths.
As a result of mainstream media portrayals like Rain Man and The Big Bang Theory enhancing this myth, which depicts all autistic people as savants, this myth has become more prevalent. People with actual savant syndrome exhibit extraordinary and exceptional abilities typically based on having a higher-than-average skill in a particular area. For example, you may find this in the areas of memory, music, art, or exceptional math skills. Some people with autism do have savant skills. However, there are fewer than 1 in 10 (or 10%) individuals with autism who display some advanced level of a specific skill. Among those people who do have a ‘savant skill,’ the skills themselves vary.
Autism sometimes involves becoming very obsessed or intensely interested in one specific topic. This fixated interest becomes so intense that the person spends excessive time and energy on the topic. Thus, they might know more about the subject than the average person. Understandably, this might lead to confusion over whether these children have savant-like abilities.
There is no truth to the idea that people with autism don’t have emotions or even that they can’t care about other people’s emotions. People with autism experience all types of emotions. Sometimes people with autism may have trouble interpreting others’ emotions and body language or understanding social cues. They might prioritize their own feelings over others. However, that isn’t strictly “an autism thing” since many people are capable of doing this.
On the other hand, some people with autism are more observant and considerate than the average person. These people can sense others’ emotions very well. They might even be considered “people-pleasers” in that they are extremely considerate of others; they focus on other people’s wants and needs more than their own, and they are very sensitive to the experiences of other people.
It is not appropriate to say that all autistic individuals are incapable of communicating or of assuming that all people with autism also have an intellectual or cognitive disability. Even though cognitive or intellectual disabilities or speech disorders can co-occur with autism spectrum disorder, this doesn’t mean that all people with autism experience these things. Many people with autism speak and communicate verbally, whereas other people with autism may not be able to do so.
People with autism spectrum disorder have some type of social and communication differences compared to the general population. However, autism is a spectrum which means that every person will experience social and communication differences in their own way. Some may be able to speak with words while others may not be able to do so. Instead, they may learn to communicate with gestures, body language, picture exchange systems, sign language, or electronic means.
Some people think that people with autism spectrum disorder can outgrow autism. It’s true that sometimes a child who receives intensive and effective services to address their challenges related to ASD may experience improvements in their functioning and eventually have less challenges that interfere with their daily life. They might even live a completely independent life that looks much like many other people’s life. However, even in these situations, the person is still likely to have autism even if their symptoms are hard to detect. For instance, they may find having small talk difficult, or they might get overwhelmed being around people for an extended period of time, or they might continue having stereotypical behaviors throughout adulthood.
Autism is a lifelong condition. Appropriate therapy and intervention can indeed help address specific concerns, help the person develop new skills, help improve communication and social abilities, and improve the overall quality of life for people with autism.
There is evidence that both genetics and environment play a role in autism spectrum disorders. However, the cause of autism is not clear. Researchers have identified genes associated with autism in some populations. They also hypothesize that genes can become expressed in a person’s behavior based on experiences the person has throughout life. This by no means suggests that parents are at fault for their child’s autism.
Researchers have also found a difference between the development of several areas of the brain in people who have autism spectrum disorder and those who don’t, which gives more support for genes being a factor in one having autism. Additionally, children born prematurely are at a higher risk of having autism than children born full-term. A wide range of environmental factors may also influence the way genes are expressed. The idea that parental practices are to blame for autistic children has been discredited. Parents don’t cause their children to have autism. Also, research has indicated that children who receive vaccines are no more likely than children who don’t receive vaccines to have autism spectrum disorder.
In a nutshell, everyone with autism is unique and valuable in their own way. Autism is a ‘spectrum’ disorder. This means that every person with autism experiences things in their own way. Myths like the above add to the misconceptions about autism and early intervention. As a parent, embracing your child’s uniqueness and providing them with early support is the best you can do. Autism is not curable, but with the right tools, many on the spectrum are able to lead successful lives.
10 myths about autism spectrum disorder. One Central Health. (2020, November 17). Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.onecentralhealth.com.au/autism/10-myths-about-autism/
Davidson M. (2017). Vaccination as a cause of autism-myths and controversies. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(4), 403–407. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.4/mdavidson
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorder fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet