Autism is a condition that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. While it continues to increase in prevalence, most of society doesn’t understand the condition and relies on hearsay and half-understood truths to form their perspectives.
Myths and misconceptions are not helpful for anyone living with autism, their families, or the people interacting with them.
Here’s some of the most common autism myths we hear and the truth behind them.
Myth 10: Autism is a new condition
Truth: While the prevalence of autism is on the rise, autism is not a new condition. It was first described by scientist Leo Kranner in 1943. The earliest recorded descriptions of people exhibiting autistic behavior were documented in 1799.
Myth 9: Autism is caused by “Refrigerator Moms”
This idea was created and popularized in the 1950’s when moms’ so-called “emotional frigidity” was blamed for the development of autism. It’s simply not true, and is totally unfair to the mothers of these special kids. Autism has nothing to do with parenting.
Myth 8: Autism is caused solely by environmental factors
The exact cause of autism is not known for certain. It’s believed that genetics plays a role in the appearance of autism. Studies have shown that parents whose first child has autism are more likely than the general population to have a second child with autism.
Myth 7: Autism only affects men
While autism is certainly more prevalent in men and boys, it isn’t solely a male condition. One in four people with autism are women and girls. It’s unclear what causes the uneven male-to-female ratio, but the current prevailing theory suggests that a nature vs. nurture issue makes diagnoses in girls and women less common.
Myth 6: Autism is caused by vaccines
There is no scientific proof that shows that vaccines cause autism. A 1998 study linking autism with vaccinations has been disproved and retracted. You can read more about childhood vaccines and their impact on child health in Childhood vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers by the Mayo Clinic.
Myth 5: Autism is a mental health condition/mental disability
Autism is a neurological disorder. Studies of people with autism show they have abnormalities in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels. It is not a mental disability, as people on the autism spectrum show a wide range of intellectual abilities.
It’s important to remember that “autism” is a spectrum and what is difficult for one individual is simple for another. Each case is different.
Myth 4: All people with autism have savant abilities
While people with savant abilities and autism often attract considerable attention, it’s not true that everyone who has autism will have these gifts. It is true that savant abilities have a higher prevalence among those with autism than neurotypicals, representing about 1 or 2 in 200 individuals in the autistic population. The spectrum of autism is wide and diverse, and simply having autism does not imply inherent savant abilities.
Myth 3: Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors should be stopped
One of the classic symptoms of autism is repetitive and ritualistic behaviors, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). While these behaviors can seem strange, the serve an important purpose of calming and reassuring people with autism.
Unless these behaviors are interfering with family life or prevent the individual with autism from functioning independently, they should not be stopped. Children might outgrow repetitive behaviors in time, but it’s not certain.
The next myth on the list is so hurtful…
Myth 2: People with autism cannot feel empathy or love
It’s not that people with autism can’t feel empathy, but rather that they express it in ways that are harder for neurotypicals to understand. People on the spectrum often struggle with processing social signals and body language, which is the root of this insidious misconception.
A recent New York Times feature on a couple with autism has shown the world what many with autism already know: that autism doesn’t preclude them from being amazing partner, parents, or friends.
Myth 1: Autism can be cured
While people with autism can be taught to cope with a neurotypical world, there is currently no way to cure someone of autism. Some with higher-functioning autism have even said they would not want a cure, because it is integral to who they are.