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10 Myths about Autism

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Every year 2nd April, is internationally recognised as World Autism Awareness Day, encouraging people world over to take measures to raise awareness about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD).

There are plenty of ideas, comments and information roaming around the world wide web about autism that are truly beneficial in many ways. On the other hand, there are a tonnes of misconceptions and myths about autism and people on the spectrum out there. It is important to make sure your facts checked out. The following list of 10 myths about autism will be beneficial for every individual with autism and families with individual on the Autism spectrum and professionals working with adults and children on the Autism spectrum.

  1. AUTISM IS NOT A DISEASE, One common misconception among the myths about autism is that it is a disease. Some people think that autism can be cured with medicine and treatment like an illness and assume that people on Autism Spectrum are therefore “sick”. The Truth is Autism is a neuro -developmental disorder that can manifest itself in communication impairment or difficulty in social skills and interaction. There are many factors which are considered to contribute to causing autism, from environmental factors to genetic factors. The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person. One thing is for certain: it is NOT a disease you can catch. Autism cannot be cured with medicine. In fact, the word “cured” doesn’t even surface into this discussion.

  2. THERE IS AN AUTISM EPIDEMIC GOING ON : 1 in every 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in United States estimates the above statistics. Such data in India is not available. This number has been increasing dramatically over time. However, the reason for this is not that autism is an epidemic disorder. Over the years there has been increased awareness, more parents, paediatricians and educators learned to recognise the signs of autism. In the past, many of individuals may have just been left undiagnosed and simply treated as socially awkward, cognitively challenged, insensitive, introverted or a combination of them all.

  3. ONE CAN "GROW OUT OF AUTISM" : Some people think that autism is a stage experienced by children, and that one can actually “grow out of autism” whether through medicine, therapy and intervention or independently. Unfortunately, autism is a life-long disorder; it cannot be cured with medicine. Despite the fact that it lasts a lifetime, individuals with this disorder can live independent, productive and comfortable lives. With therapies, interventions and education, the challenges that come with autism can be managed. There is no reason why anyone with autism can’t lead as happy and meaningful a life.

  4. INDIVIDUALS WITH AUTISM ARE EITHER GENIUSES / INTELLECTUALLY DISABLED : Autism is a spectrum disorder. This means that its characteristics differ from one person to another person on the spectrum. Movies like Rain Man or in the Good Doctor (TV series) unwittingly propagate this concept that children with autism are geniuses and with extraordinary talents. Such social media hype creates more myths than maybe share facts. Recently, One young adult with ASD, was interviewed by a IT firm, they came out and observed that they didn't see any extraordinary skills performed on computer by him, as compared to a social media post seen by them of an extraordinary person on Autism Spectrum. Autistic individuals often exhibit very specific and focused interest in a singular topic, and often excludes everything and anything else. This means that they might have a higher than average level of knowledge on the specific subject. Understandably, this might lead to confusion regarding whether they have savant abilities, but in reality it is more likely than not simply an expression of their keen interest in the topic. Savant abilities do exist but they are rare. At the same time because social communication is challenges, often people with ASD are judged at having cognitive / intellectual challenges.

  5. ONLY BOYS HAVE AUTISM This is one more myth biting dust. Psychiatrist Leo Kanner in his research found that there were more than four times as many boys that showed symptoms as girls. The ratio of boys to girls who qualify for an autism diagnosis drops to about 3-to-1 in a massive new analysis of published research in 2017 as compared to 4.2-to-1 earlier.

  6. PEOPLE WITH AUTISM DON'T FEEL EMOTIONS - This myth is unfair and harmful for autistic people. So communication is not just speech, it the emotion, the body language and often what is said between the lines or sarcasm. Individual with Autism struggle with interpreting other people’s expressions. They may not be able to detect sadness or happiness based just on body language. The communication needs to be direct with individuals with autism. But this definitely does not mean that they cannot feel happiness, sadness, empathy or compassion; they just have a different way of expressing and understanding them. Therapy and professional intervention can help individuals with Autism to understand their emotions and to find ways to communicate the same.

  7. BAD PARENTING CAUSES AUTISM : This myth that poor parenting was a cause of autism was repeatedly challenged and eventually rejected. There was a theory called the “refrigerator mother" hypothesis in the fifties that suggested autism is caused by mothers who weren’t emotionally warm. This evolution, led by highly effective lobbying from parents, led to an explosion of research into neurobiology, cognition, genetics, and behavioural and medical interventions in the Autism Spectrum Disorders. This myth is one for the historical annals of Autism and best left there to collect dust and be forgotten in time.

  8. CHILDREN WITH AUTISM CANNOT LEARN : If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. The key to educating an individual with autism is to first educate yourself and find the correct way to approach the child. With appropriate methods, therapies, support and love, they can learn just fine. This myth about autism is similar to the myth that autistic people have an intellectual ability. Effective and special education and professional therapy help individual with autism improve their learning while progressing at their own rate and speed.

  9. VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM : This is a common myth in our society. Many parents have reported that their children behaviour and social skills changed after vaccines. Even though this is a relatively commonly known myth, it’s actually just not true. A research in 1990 was published in a journal that drew a highly shaky link between vaccines and autism. The Scientific community rejected the research as it was not conducted up to scientific standards and deceptive, non replicable. Unfortunately, the myth has pervaded over the last few decades despite there being no evidence that there is any link between vaccines and autism.

  10. CHILDREN WITH AUTISM ARE VIOLENT : It is not true that a child with autism is intentionally more violent or likely to cause physical harm. If you understand what causes your autistic child’s self-injurious and aggressive behaviour, you can help your child learn to manage the behaviour. Individuals with Autism might behave aggressively or hurt themselves because they:

  • have trouble understanding what’s happening around them – for example, what other people are saying or communicating non-verbally

  • have difficulty communicating their own wants and needs

  • are very anxious and stressed

  • have sensory sensitivity, like an oversensitivity to noise or a need for stimulation

  • want to escape from stressful situations or activities.

I have listed above top 10 myths, it is aimed to expand awareness about autism. I will love it if you share this post with others because the more people understand what autism is and isn’t, and the more myths we can bust, the better for all and the change our society will see.

If we all recognise the need to never stop learning and growing in our understanding for people with Autism, we will build a society which is more accepting and inclusive.

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