Let's Debunk Some Myths About Autism
For the people who happen to see the world through a different lens
The first time I learned about autism, was when I was a teenager and one of my classmates confided in me that their brother had been diagnosed with low-functioning autism.
Which, if you think about it, was pretty late. Why the hell my parents had never mentioned autism to me before? That’s an example that showcases our society’s lack of education when it comes to autism, and I would dare say, mental health in general.
Thankfully, by now I’m happy to say that I have learned a lot about this developmental disorder. And although the internet and countless hours talking with families with autistic children helped, most of my knowledge was acquired when I worked in a summer camp and was assigned a girl with high-functioning autism.
I think it’s time to debunk some unfair myths about autism and state some important facts for people who happen to see the world through a different lens and perspective.
Myth #1. : Autism Is an Illness
Autism is NOT an illness or a disease. It’s not something that can be cured with medicine.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to interact and socialize with others. People diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) aren’t physically or mentally sick and they aren’t in any kind of pain.
What they do struggle with, is communication, and everything it entails: making friends, developing social skills, picking up social cues, participating in social activities, or expressing their feelings.
"Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people. It’s something you’re born with or first appears when you’re very young. If you’re autistic, you’re autistic your whole life. Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a “cure”."
Myth #2: People With Autism Don’t Have/Can’t Read Feelings
One of the most common misconceptions about individuals on the spectrum is that they’re incapable of having or reading other’s people's feelings/emotions.
The truth is that (depending on where they are on the spectrum) most people diagnosed with ASD have feelings just like the rest of us— they just communicate them differently. According to research, they can also read other’s emotions and feel empathy for them.
To sum up:
- Individuals diagnosed with autism are capable of building friendships and relationships — as long as they find people with whom they share interests and who are able to show understanding of their atypical behavior.
- Although they might have difficulties in understanding someone’s sadness or distress based on their body language or their facial expressions, once they do they can feel empathy or compassion.
Myth #3: All People With ASD Are Alike
The reason why I’m not referring to the experiences I had with the autistic girl I cared for in the summer camp is that, if you have met one person with autism…you have met one person with autism.
In other words, people diagnosed with ASD are NOT alike. This disorder has many subtypes and consists of a variety of behavioral and developmental struggles, which means that each person is affected differently.
According to this article in Autism Speaks:
“We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.”
For example, if you’ve met an autistic individual who didn’t like being touched by others due to having a high sensory sensitivity, doesn’t mean that someone else, (with no such sensitivities) won’t enjoy a form of touch.
It all depends on where they are on the spectrum and how autism has affected them.
Myth #4: People With Autism Are Dangerous
From my experience, one of the first questions people ask when they learn someone is diagnosed with autism is, “So, are they dangerous?”
Unfortunately, there’s a myth floating around that being diagnosed with autism means having violent outbursts and being a danger to society.
Aggressive behavior and violent outbursts aren’t as common as people tend to believe among autistic individuals and are usually directed toward themselves. Usually, it is frustration and sensory or physical overload that may push them to behave in a more violent manner.
According to this study:
“Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may actually have an increased risk of being the victim rather than the perpetrator of violence (Sobsey, Wells, Lucardie, & Mansell, 1995 ). There is no evidence that people with ASD are more violent than those without ASD.”
Myth #5: Parents Are Responsible for Their Kid’s Autism
In 1943, Austrian-American psychiatrist Leo Canner published a research paper, in which he suggested that lack of maternal warmth could result in autistic people. Thus, “the refrigerator mother” theory was invented.
And, due to the fact that in the 1950s there was no biomedical explanation of autism spectrum disorder, the theory gained many supporters, causing the birth of the myth that poor parenting is responsible for developing autism.
However, nowadays it is actually established that parental behavior has nothing to do with the development of autism. According to research:
“There is no scientific empirical support for the notion that mothers cause their children’s autism or that they lack reflective functioning and are insensitive to their children’s needs (Deslauriers, 1967; Keen, 2007). Indeed, it is widely accepted that mothers are not the cause of autism in children.”
There are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding autism and so many things we need to unlearn.
Please, before you spread misinformation or jump to conclusions upon meeting someone with autism, make sure you have educated yourself on the matter first.
For example, here are some resources that can help you deepen your knowledge around autism: