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Autism: 9 common myths, debunked.

Fortunately for the millions of individuals thought to be living with Autism around the world, our understanding of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is developing rapidly. Statistics currently show that around 1 in 59 children within the USA have been diagnosed with Autism, yet despite its prevalence within our society, a multitude of misconceptions surround the neurodevelopmental disorder.

One way to combat these false impressions of Autism is to educate, so we’ve decided to debunk nine of the most common myths that currently associate themselves with ASD.

Myth: Autism can be cured

Fact: There are many effective therapies and interventions that can support individuals with ASD to live a happy and successful life, however, there is currently no cure for Autism. Similarly, you cannot grow out of Autism. It is a condition that individuals learn to manage and live with. Whilst there is still much to learn about ASD, we do know that is a life-long condition that benefits from early-intervention and diagnosis.

Myth: Only boys can have Autism

Fact: Whilst boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls, individuals of any gender, age, ethnicity or socioeconomic group can be affected by the condition. There is some debate as to whether this statistic is a truthful reflection of Autism as girls often present their Autistic tenancies differently to boys which may lead to their condition going undiagnosed.

Myth: Children with Autism cannot speak

Fact: There are many challenges that are associated with Autism and it is estimated that around 1 in 3 individuals with ASD are also non-verbal. In addition to this statistic, some children with ASD may have delayed speech. It is important to recognize, however, that individuals who are considered to be non-verbal may actually hold the ability to speak a limited number of words or phrases. 

The majority of individuals living with Autism maintain the ability to verbally communicate and may even accomplish this skill at a faster rate than their neurotypical peers. Those who do not possess the ability to communicate verbally still manage to express themselves in other ways. There’s a wealth of resources that are currently available to non-verbal individuals with the list growing daily. Whilst sign-language, physical gestures, Picture Exchange Communication systems (PECs), Text-to-Speech devices and apps are often the preferred methods of choice, there is an extensive amount of high and low tech assistive technologies available. This Augmentative and Assistive Communication (AAC) methods are becoming heavily relied on to support the communication of individuals with little to no speech and are having a huge impact on their quality of life.

Myth: People with Autism cannot read emotions or maintain eye contact.

Fact: Whilst Autism typically affects an individual’s ability to read emotions and understand their peer’s interpersonal communications, it does not mean that these individuals cannot read emotions at all. For instance, when emotions are clearly and directly communicated, they are much more likely to be understood by someone with ASD than if you were to simply alter your body language or tone of voice.

Current research suggests that individuals living with Autism who also experience emotional processing difficulties actually reflects the co-occurring condition, Alexithymia. Research has recently concluded that the co-occurrence of Autism and Alexithymia better explains why most (but not all) individuals with ASD display difficulties reading emotions and maintaining direct eye contact. Whilst the ability to maintain eye contact, read emotions and feel empathy is a difficulty for many individuals on the Autism spectrum, it is not necessarily an issue that is faced by all.

Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting

Fact: Although this was considered to be a truth in the 1940’s and 50’s when Leo Kanner coined the term ‘refrigerator parents’, this theory has since been disproved. This idea was based on the notion that mothers who lacked emotional warmth were the cause behind the neurodevelopmental condition that we know as Autism, however, at present, there is no widely accepted cause for the condition.

Myth: Vaccinations cause Autism

Fact: 1998 saw the publication of The Lancet research study that reported a link between Autism and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) immunization vaccine. It is imperative to recognize that not only has this study been debunked due to numerous flaws in the study, but it has also been retracted by Lancet himself. The claims of the MMR vaccine causing Autism have been extensively studied and have since been found to be false.

As previously mentioned, there is currently no accepted notion which explains the cause of Autism.

Myth: People with Autism don’t want friends

Fact: In contrast to the previously accepted notion that individuals with Autism desire social isolation, research has taught us that those living with Autism often long for relationships with their peers. This belief is supported by many personal accounts from individuals with ASD who agree that they crave friendships but find it hard to build and maintain them due to their struggle to interpret social cues. 

Social interaction is often impaired in people with ASD and they often struggle to read and display emotions, but this does not mean that they cannot form and maintain friendships and even personal relationships. Thankfully, many individuals living with ASD hold very strong bonds and relations with their family and peers.

Myth: Every person Autism is very similar

Fact: There’s an increasingly popular saying that mocks this myth: ‘If you’ve met one person with Autism, then you’ve met one person with Autism’. Autism is not a personality, but a condition which differs between each individual who is affected by it. Similarly to neurotypical individuals, each individual living with Autism is different and should be treated accordingly.

Myth: There is an Autism epidemic

Fact: It is an undeniable fact that the number of ASD diagnoses has increased by around 600% in the last 20 years, but there is a strong argument that defends this increase being referred to as an epidemic. Our current understanding of ASD has radically evolved from our previous understandings of the condition. Subsequently, the way that Autism is diagnosed has adapted in line with this new research and mirrors our current definitions. It is probable that many individuals who have an Autism diagnosis today would not have met the criteria for a diagnosis, should their assessment have taken place in a time before our understanding was as extensive as it is today.

By Jodie Pedwell

Jodie qualified as a Primary in the UK but quickly found her passion lay within the field of Special Education. Whilst teaching within an ASD specialist class, Jodie discovered her expertise lay in supporting individuals who displayed challenging behaviors and has since held various positions where she could fulfill this dream. In her free time, Jodie loves to explore the outdoors and practice yoga and meditation.

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