1 in 59 children in the United States are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Due to this fact, the knowledge surrounding autism needs to grow. However, there is an unfortunate amount of autism myths and misconceptions.
As an autistic adult with three children on the spectrum, I have heard my fair share of questions about autism. While many of the questions are well-meaning, there are a few that still irks me. It is not the person asking that bothers me though. It’s the fact that many of these beliefs are still out there.
Some of the autism myths and misconceptions come from fear. Others are due to a lack of knowledge and how pop culture portrays autism in film.
Today, we will be debunking misunderstandings and learning the real facts about autism.
7 Top Autism Myths & Misconceptions
In the last twenty years, there have been huge strides in both medical and parenting when it comes to autism. With all this change, there are still many that hold on to old and incorrect knowledge. So let’s debunk these myths of autism!
1. Autism is caused by vaccines
“The widespread fear that vaccines increase the risk of autism originated with a 1997 study published by Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon. It suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine was increasing autism in British children.” –publichealth.org
Unfortunately, fear is a powerful thing. Though experts have been debunking this information for over twenty years, it is still a common misconception. People seem to want to believe the one poorly done study (with only 12 participants!). There are many that will hold true to this belief, even when presented with the evidence otherwise.
As we have learned though, one biased media source can cause a society to uproar based on misconceptions and lies. When you have a celebrity such as Jenny McCarthy spreading lies, it can be massively damaging. We have had several measles outbreaks due to the anti-vaccine movements.
The only solution to this problem is through real autism awareness!
If autism starts in the womb, there is no way for vaccines to cause autism!Dr. John Bruno, PhD
2. Children with Autism lack empathy and emotions.
There is an ongoing stereotype that people with autism lack empathy and cannot understand emotion. Indeed, many autistic individuals don’t show emotion in ways that people without the condition would recognize. That doesn’t mean we don’t have emotions or don’t have empathy.
People with autism experience can experience even excessive empathy at times. The difference is, they don’t always know how to share those feelings.
Learning emotions through tools like the Zones of Regulation can do wonders. Learning this is something many children with autism do in therapy nowadays. Also, tools such as Mightier help teach emotional regulation.
The best way to help show autism acceptance is to be understanding that sharing emotions can be hard.
3. “Autism means he’s super smart, right?” or “Oh, that’s like down syndrome?”
For some reason, autism and IQ seem to go hand in hand when it comes to myths. Every person that has an autism diagnosis is as unique a person, just like any other person in the world. There isn’t a set correlation between autism and intelligence.
Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disorder, not an intellectual disability. Some are diagnosed with a separate disorder that causes an impact on their IQ. Some are extremely smart, just like any other person with a high IQ without a diagnosis.
4. Autism is new and over-diagnosed.
Autism is not overdiagnosed or new. The difference is, autism isn’t what it used to be.
“The core features of autism — social communication and inflexible, repetitive behavior — have remained the same since the beginning,” Thomas Frazier, PhD
The term “Autism” was first used in 1908, with the start of what is considered a diagnosis definition in 1943. Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means there are varying levels of autism. With these levels, more people fall within the spectrum.
Due to improved awareness, autism is being diagnosed at earlier ages. Now, at your child’s 18 months check-up, the pediatrician will do an initial screening for signs of autism. With an early diagnosis, children with autism have seen a significant improvement in symptoms.
Another thing adding to the stats is the rise in adult diagnosis. Many adults are now gaining the proper diagnosis of autism. These individuals were often misdiagnosed with bipolar, ADHD, or just “different.”
A crucial part of autism awareness and acceptance is to understand how autism affects one person isn’t’ how it affects all.
5. Autism only occurs in Children
While this may come as a surprise to many, all children grow up. Autism is a life long diagnosis. Additionally, many adults are now receiving a late-life diagnosis as autism is continually better understood.
Another problem with this autism myth is that it makes life harder for autistic adults. Studies have revealed that as many as 90% of autistic adults in the united states are unemployed.
To help debunk these autism misconceptions, we need to work to employ autistic adults.
5. People with autism can’t make eye contact.
Making and maintaining eye contact is hard for people diagnosed with autism. However, it’s not impossible. Just because someone is capable of making eye contact does not negate their autism diagnosis.
As eye contact is an expected social norm, many individuals force themselves to at least make eye contact intermediately. That said, this also doesn’t mean it is comfortable for an individual to make eye contact.
For autistic individuals, making and maintaining eye contact can be downright painful. Each person is different. For some, eye contact may only be uncomfortable. For others, it may be completely impossible due to the pain it causes.
6. Autistic Children aren’t Affectionate
Everyone with autism is just like every other human. We are all different. Although social deficits are common, there are not defining factors of autism. Some autistic children may be more withdrawn than others, but that does not equal not being affectionate.
One of the most common phrases I hear that makes me cringe is this. “She’s to social to be autistic.” or “She doesn’t look autistic.”
While I am sure these are very well-meaning comments, they are cringe-worthy at best. Think about it this way. How would you respond to that?
The best thing you can do to help debunk this autism myth is to understand that every autistic individual is unique.
7. “It’s just a tantrum” or “They’re Just Spoiled”
Though a meltdown may mimic a tantrum, it is nowhere near the same. A tantrum is an outburst of anger or frustration. A meltdown from an autistic child is a result of having a sensory overload. This can vary from child to child, my son, for example, has issues with visual and noise stimuli.
These meltdowns don’t end just by taking them out of the environment or giving him something. He is entirely unable to control or stop his response to the situation.
Due to this, you may see autistic individuals with noise-canceling headphones. These headphones reduce noise stimuli for them and make social situations a little easier.
Debunking Autism Myths and Misconceptions
These are just a few of the common misconceptions of autism. A common saying around the autism community sums it up. “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
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