A few years ago, we shared with you ten things people with autism are sick and tired of hearing. Unfortunately, there are a lot more than ten myths about autism that continue to linger in society. So for the sake of commiserating with those frustrating myths and further educating the world about autism, we’re going to break down another ten myths and bits of misinformation people continue to hold about ASD.
Share this list as far as you can—understanding and acceptance is the REAL cure the autism community needs.
10. You should talk down to people who are nonverbal; otherwise they won’t understand you.
Many seem to be under the impression that if an individual is non-speaking, they are not intelligent or “not completely there.” That, paired with the first impressions people may get of those on the severe end of the spectrum—including odd behaviors and flat affect—further cements this false idea in people’s minds. As a result, many people with nonverbal autism find themselves—irritatingly!—infantilized and patronized.
Perhaps the reason why this happens so often is because people tend to think expressive language and receptive language—the ability to speak and the ability to understand, respectively—are mutually exclusive. They are not. Many with nonverbal autism are unable to speak but can understand what is said. And even if they don’t, it’s far more respectful to assume they totally get everything you say. So please talk to them like you would talk to anyone else of the same age. And please, please, please—if they are within earshot, NEVER talk about them as if they are not in the room.
9. Children with autism grow out of it.
There are some rare cases of children with autism “losing their symptoms” to the point where they’re no longer considered to have it. But even those cases are questionable, and autism is a lifelong disorder for most individuals. This makes sense if you know that people with autism have a different neurological wiring than neurotypical people do. As many on the spectrum say, autism is a fundamental part of who they are. They may learn to “pass” as neurotypical, but their brains remain autistic.
8. People with autism are all violent and a danger to others.
This myth is likely borne from the equally dangerous myth that people with autism do not have empathy or compassion for others. As a result, those who believe this myth think people with autism are “cold, calculating killing machines with no regard for human life.” (And yes, those were the actual words of a formerly existing Facebook page called “Families Against Autistic Shooters.”)
In reality, there is absolutely zero evidence that people on the spectrum are more likely to be the perpetrators of violent crime. In fact, they’re much more likely to be the victims of abuse. Furthermore, people with autism do have empathy and compassion for others—perhaps, as evidence is beginning to indicate, even more so than the general neurotypical population!
However, a number of people with autism do display aggressive behaviors, mostly toward caregivers. But there are reasons for the behaviors—they may be trying to communicate or may feel frustrated, scared, or overwhelmed. There’s no question that this behavior can be frightening and frustrating, but it is typically not done out of malice.
7. You can tell someone has autism just by looking at them.
Many autism parents and people on the spectrum hear a variation of this phrase way too often: “But s/he doesn’t look like s/he has autism!” This confusion probably stems from the fact that some other disorders—most notably Down Syndrome—do tend to express certain physical features. Autism, however, is not one of them. People with autism look like anyone else. The only way you can tell is by their behavior, or if they or someone else tells you they’re on the spectrum.
6. People with autism are intellectually disabled.
On the other side of the myth about savantism, there’s the myth that all people on the spectrum experience intellectual disabilities. Some certainly do, but not all—perhaps not even most. Previous statistics have estimated that 70 to 80 percent of individuals with autism have an intellectual disability, but experts say there is very poor evidence that the rates are truly that high. In addition, it is believed that we’ve been incorrectly measuring intelligence in people with autism. Our most commonly used intelligence test, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale, is largely verbal, putting people with autism at an instant disadvantage. Naturally, then, they tend to do poorly. But when given intelligence tests that are better suited to their abilities, many receive average or above average scores.
5. Kids with autism having a meltdown just need a good spanking.
This myth is what fuels a lot of nasty notes and rude, unnecessary comments from strangers. A child having a meltdown is not trying to get something they want; they are overloaded and have completely lost control. They cannot help it. In other words, it is not a behavioral issue that deserves punishment—it is a neurological issue that deserves compassion. No amount of spankings will stop a meltdown, and in fact, they will probably make it even worse.
4. The divorce rate of couples with a child on the spectrum is 80 percent.
Did you know this dramatic and terrifying statistic has no data to back it up whatsoever? It is an urban legend that has been touted as fact. In fact, studies have found little to no difference in the divorce rates of neurotypical versus autism families. And even if it is higher in autism families, it is a much more minor difference than the myth suggests—one study estimated 23.5 versus 13.8 percent. That’s only a 9.7 percent difference.
3. All people with autism are asexual.
While it’s true that the autism population has a higher percentage of asexual individuals than the neurotypical population, that certainly doesn’t mean everyone is. Many people with autism are sexual in some way—whether that’s heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.
2. People with autism cannot lie.
While we largely fight against stigma and lack of acceptance in the disability community, there’s another insidious extreme we need to avoid: idealizing people with disorders like autism. Yes, people with autism are oftentimes wonderful. Yes, autism is the reason they sometimes engage in challenging behaviors. No, that doesn’t mean people on the spectrum are perfect. People with autism are every bit as human as everyone else, meaning they can and do possess all our human flaws and imperfections. And while people with autism tend to be bluntly honest—sometimes to a fault—that certainly doesn’t mean they can’t lie.
1. People with autism don’t want and cannot have meaningful relationships.
Many people with autism do want friendships and relationships, but their social struggles make it inherently difficult for them. Even so, that doesn’t mean they can’t have close relationships because plenty do. People with autism, for example, can and do get married—both to others on the spectrum and to neurotypical partners.