5 APRIL 2019

Myths about Autism

by Aimee Herrera

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‘Kids with autism don’t want friends’, and other misconceptions about autism

In today’s age of information, with access to online sources and social media, it’s easier than ever to find an overwhelming amount of information about autism. Advice can be conflicting and it can be hard to know what to believe.

In this post, we will throw light on ten common myths about autism and discover the truth.

Myth #1: Autism is caused by “bad parenting”

Fact: The root of this misconception began with the 1940’s “refrigerator mother” theory of autism, claiming that autism was a result of a lack of warmth from the mother. This theory has long been disproven and current research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the difficulties experienced by individuals with autism.

A child on the autism spectrum has difficulty communicating and interacting with others, but parenting is certainly not the cause.

Myth #2: People on the autistic spectrum don’t feel or express emotions

Fact: Many individuals with autism struggle to recognise and communicate emotions but this does not mean that they don’t experience emotions.  The difficulty in recognising emotions is related to delays in understanding nonverbal communication cues such as a person’s facial expressions or body language as well as delays in spoken language.

Families and friends must learn the unique ways that their loved ones with autism express themselves – both nonverbal and verbal– to support meaningful social engagement.

Myth #3: Children with autism don’t want to make friends

Fact: Differences in interpreting social cues, understanding other people’s point of view, and initiating conversations often contribute to challenges developing friendships. In addition, many individuals with autism report sensitivity to very noisy or bright environments while others report experiences of anxiety of social situations.

By creating more supportive and inclusive communities, individuals with autism can develop friendships, especially with people who share similar interests.

Myth #4: Autism is a boy’s condition

Fact: While more boys are diagnosed than girls, some researchers think that this might not be an accurate representation of those who have the condition. The way that autism presents itself in girls can be different to boys, which often leads to girls being overlooked or diagnosed later.

A better understanding of autism in girls is needed so that we can provide them with the appropriate developmental and educational supports.

Myth #5: Children will “grow out” of autism / autism is curable

Fact: At present, there is no known cure for autism and it’s a lifelong condition. Interventions can help people with autism learn specific skills, and the earlier you intervene, the greater the chances to ameliorate the symptoms of autism.

It’s important to note that many people consider autism as a different way of being which should not be ‘cured’. It can bring about a unique way of viewing the world and people on the autistic spectrum enrich the tapestry of life. So although it’s important to find ways to treat specific difficulties that pose challenges to daily life, there also needs to be a better understanding and acceptance of individuals with autism.

Myth #6: Autism is an intellectual disability

Fact: Autism is characterized by difficulties in communication and social interaction. However, an individual with autism may also have other psychiatric or learning conditions such as intellectual disability. It is estimated that 1/3 of people with autism have intellectual disability, which effects their intellectual and adaptive functioning.

The key to supporting a child’s intellectual development is to identify how he/she learns best and providing individualized instruction and intervention. Options include behavioral intervention, functional communication training, and milieu therapy to name a few.

Myth #7: All children with autism have superpowers

Fact: Autistic savants are children and adults with autism who possess remarkable “islands of genius”, or special abilities and skills. They show exceptional skills in areas as diverse as mathematics, calendar calculating, visual spatial skills, languages, music and art.

Interests and special skills should be nurtured, and can be harnessed to strengthen self-esteem, confidence, develop friendships, and guide potential career opportunities

Myth #8: People with autism can’t be empathetic

Fact: Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts and point of view. It requires the ability to read other people’s facial expressions and body language and then respond appropriately in social situations. Since individuals with autism struggle with reading and responding to social cues, it has led to the misconception that they don’t experience empathy.

Watch this 5 minute video by Conner Ward, an adult with autism who how he experiences empathy.

Myth #9: Autism is caused by the MMR vaccine

Fact: Over a decade of research has shown that vaccines do not cause autism.  The correlation with vaccines is one of the most dangerous myths on this list, as not keeping up with regular vaccinations could be life-threatening for a child and the children around them.

Read the science on the Autism Science Foundation website.

Myth #10: Children with autism won’t have a meaningful future

Fact: All parents want their child to have a healthy and happy life. By establishing healthy habits, discovering individual strengths, and nurturing social relationships we can create a solid foundation for a meaningful life. While developmental delays may present challenges along the road, early intervention programs offer support and opportunities for success at home, school and the community.

Individuals with autism can accomplish all these things, with early intervention promoting communication and social skills as well as with the loving support of their families and community.

Facts vs. Fiction

With all the information floating around about autism, it’s important to not believe everything at face value. One of the most important things to remember is that the autistic spectrum is just that – a spectrum. People with autism are all different and have varying challenges and strengths.

Finally, information from autism not-for-profits are great places to start when it comes to researching facts and opinions – organisations like the National Autistic Society or the Autism Research Trust in the UK, or Autism Speaks, the Autism Society of America and the Organisation for Autism Research in the USA.

The Author

Aimee Herrera specializes in early intervention for infants & toddlers

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