By: Jonelle Lupero, BCBA, LBA (NY)
Unfortunately, some commonly held beliefs about Autism, which we know to be untrue, still continue. This lack of understanding can make it difficult for people on the autism spectrum to have their condition recognized and to access the support they need, in addition to compounding the worries of the average parent.
The following is a list of 12 myths about autism which aims to expand autism awareness as well as put an and end to any misconceptions.
1. Myth: Autism is Just a Mental Health Disorder
The truth: Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to communicate and interact with others. There is more than one type of autism caused by different genetic combinations and environmental factors. In children with autism, the brain develops differently to typically developing children, affecting many areas of development.
2. Myth: Autism Only Affects Male Children
The truth: Children with autism grow up to become adults with autism. Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, with ratios ranging from four boys diagnosed to every one girl (http://autismspeaks.org). Girls with autism are more likely to have stronger social skills than boys with autism at the same level of cognitive functioning, and they are more likely to have stronger social interests. “Being aware of these key differences in boys and girls with higher functioning ASD can help in awareness and identification of girls with ASD” (Audrey Carson, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics-psychology at Baylor).
3. Myth: People With Autism Don’t Experience the Full Range of Emotions
The truth: People with autism may have difficulty expressing emotions, or may express them in a different way. Children with autism experience the full range of emotions. It is common for people with autism to have difficulty identifying and understanding the emotions of others which can lead to misinterpretations.
Children with autism can build skills and learn to respond to other people in ways that are more typical or expected. Children with autism can and do show physical affection but often on their own terms. For some children, typical means of showing affection are more difficult, such as maintaining eye contact and physical contact.
4. Myth: People With Autism Don’t Want Friends
The truth: Most people with Autism do want to have friends, but have difficulty engaging socially with others, which may make it difficult to interact with peers. The social skills required to form friendships often need to be taught clearly to children with Autism.
In contrast to the previously dominant idea that they prefer social isolation, recent studies have demonstrated that most people with ASD want to form relationships with others. (Brownlow, Rosqvist, & O’Dell, 2015)
5. Myth: People With Autism Don’t Have Other Disorders or Conditions
The truth: Although many people with Autism do not have other conditions, many do. Research has shown that people with autism also have co-occurring conditions such as Intellectual Disability, Epilepsy, gastro-intestinal disorders, food sensitivities, allergies, and Fragile X Syndrome.
6. Myth: All People With Autism Have an Outstanding “Savant” Skill
The truth: There’s an iconic moment in Rain Man, in which Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character counts in an instant the exact number of cocktail sticks dropped on the floor by the waitress. In other scenes he demonstrates incredible powers of memory and calendar calculation. The success of this film has helped spread the incorrect idea that all or most people with autism are savants.
Although many people with autism have amazing “savant” abilities such as extraordinary math or musical skills, the reality is that approximately 10% of the autistic population has an extreme talent or genius level gift (according to the Autism Research Institute), the majority do not.
Children with autism have a wide range of IQ scores and skill sets, and every child is different. 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70), 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 44% have IQ scores in the average to above average range (i.e., IQ >85).
7. Myth: Vaccinations Cause Autism
The truth: There is no reliable scientific evidence that childhood vaccinations cause Autism. There is evidence that not vaccinating children has led to an increase in preventable diseases.
In 1998 the British pediatrician Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues published a small story in the respected Lancet medical journal that implied that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine plays a causal role in autism. The Lancet paper was withdrawn in 2010, judged to be flawed and untrue. The same year Wakefield was struck off the doctor’s register after being found guilty of dishonesty and professional misconduct. Several large-scale studies have since examined the possibility of a link between MMR and Autism and have found no evidence to support the link.
According to the Autism Society, no single cause (https//www.autism-society.org/what-is/causes) triggers autism.
Studies (https//www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism.data.html) also show that genetics and other chromosomal disabilities tend to be linked to autism.
8. Myth: Children With Autism Don’t Speak
The truth: Although some children with Autism may have delayed speech or may not use words to communicate, many have very well-developed speech. In fact, some children may speak earlier than typically developing peers, but may have an unusual style of communication, such as overly formal speech or a strong preference to talk about particular subjects. There is a very wide range of skills and abilities among children with autism in relation to speech.
9. Myth: Children With Autism Are More Aggressive
The truth: As with other children there are those with autism who may shout or hit when they are distressed, but this is certainly not the case for all children with autism. When problem behavior occurs, it is often related to a lack or deficit of alternative skills or difficulties coping in the sensory environment, regulating emotions or communicating needs.
According to the Autism Society (http://www/autism-society.org) people with ASD are more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it.
Challenging behaviors are often a communication of last resort. It is rare for a child with autism to intentionally cause harm to another person.
10. Myth: Autism is Caused by Bad Parenting Style
The truth: In the 1950’s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. Even though we do not yet know the exact causes of Autism, the research that has been conducted supports the view that parenting style does not cause autism.
Because of difficulties with sensory processing and communication, some children with Autism respond negatively to some typical parenting behaviors, such as touch and hugs, and may require direct communication in order to understand others. When parents adapt their behavior to respond to their child’s needs it may appear unusual to others, but it is important not to assume that the parenting style is causing the child’s difficulties.
There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to in neurotypical children. (autism-society.org)
11. Myth: We Are in the Midst of an Autism Epidemic
The truth: Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 59 births. (CDC, 2018,) Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). (CDC, 2014)
While it is true that autism diagnoses are on the rise, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more cases of autism than there have been in the past. The increase is better explained by a broader definition of autism and more efficient diagnostic methods.
Before 1980, autism wasn’t considered a diagnosis, but a trait of schizophrenia. Over time, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) has expanded its description of autism, and it has reduced the number of traits that doctors need to identify in patients in order to diagnose them as autistic.
An autism diagnosis has been expanded to include all spectrum disorders which covers a wide variety of symptoms, severities, and conditions.
In addition, since the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, awareness has also increased over time; more paents, pediatricians, and educators are learning to recognize the early signs of autism and are more likely to seek an Autism evaluation.
12. Myth: Autism Can be Cured With Medicine
The truth: Autism is a life-long disorder; it cannot be cured with medicine. While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that can address some of the challenges associated with the condition. Intervention can help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies people with autism, there is no single treatment that will be effective for everyone on the spectrum. Individuals can use the positive aspects of their condition to their benefit, but treatment must begin as early as possible and focus on the individual’s unique strengths, weaknesses and needs. (autism-society.org)
According to Autism Speaks (https//www.autismspeaks.org), “We do know that significant improvement in autism symptoms is most often reported in connection with intensive early intervention.
On the other hand, medication can be used to deal with gastrointestinal disorders or problem behaviors that are caused due to autism.