Autism: Myths and Misconceptions

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), affects one out of every 54 children over the age of eight in the United States. While some developmental disorders are present from birth, autism usually becomes evident as children fail to meet certain developmental milestones.

The autism spectrum has a broad range; its presence is by no means evidence of low intelligence, an inability to function, or a lack of personality. In fact, many people on the autism spectrum lead very full and productive lives.

Despite efforts to raise autism awareness, many people remain largely uninformed about ASD. Many myths and misconceptions surround autism. This may be in part because individuals with ASD range so widely across the spectrum, with difficulties ranging from problems connecting with other people to more serious social impairments.

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder typically characterized by difficulty communicating and socializing. The autism spectrum incorporates everyone from high-functioning people with ASD (who require little to no assistance in their day-to-day lives) to more severe forms of autism (requiring intensive therapies and full-time health aides).

Symptoms also vary widely across the spectrum. ASD may be classified by levels one through three, but each category is also distinctly defined. The different kinds of autism include:

  • Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), previously called Asperger’s Syndrome;
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD);
  • Kanner’s Syndrome or Classic Autistic Disorder; and
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Rhett Syndrome was previously considered a type of autism but has since been removed from the spectrum.

5 Myths About Autism (and the Truth)

Of course, misconceptions abound whenever people feel “uncomfortable” talking about the subject. One of the best ways to help increase autism awareness is by getting informed and learning the truth behind those inaccuracies.

Myth: You can always tell when someone has autism.

Fact:

Actually, ASD has such a large range of symptoms and severity, you may actually know several people who have autism! This particular misconception is also what leads to the development of some other myths. Autism spectrum disorder is not a one-size-fits-all disorder, which is exactly why it is a ‘spectrum’ and not just a disorder.

Furthermore, there may be differences in the way the spectrum presents across the genders. Girls with autism tend to have better social skills and may find ways to camouflage more obvious symptoms (masking). Boys on the autism spectrum are more likely to display restricted interests or repetitive behaviors.

Myth: People with autism do not have feelings and do not understand emotions in other people.

Fact:

People with autism feel all the emotions neurotypical people do. They may, however, have trouble expressing those emotions, especially in a productive way.

Similarly, this can make perceiving other people’s emotions more complicated or more difficult. Someone on the autism spectrum may have trouble reading facial expressions or detecting feelings from a tone of voice, especially sarcasm. If you communicate an emotion clearly and directly rather than expecting a person with autism to infer how you feel, you will find them quite empathetic.

Myth: People with autism are not just developmentally challenged, but are also intellectually challenged.

Fact:

In reality, the spectrum of autism varies so widely, this is impossible to deduce based on a label of autism. Not only do many people on the spectrum have very high IQs, but many are also extremely talented in their fields. For example, one person might not detect emotions well but may be excellent at math. Someone else might be an amazing artist but may have difficulty controlling repetitive behaviors or maintaining eye contact.

Myth: Autism is easy to test for, diagnose, and treat.

Fact:

The truth is, no single, simple test for diagnosis exists. Although there are tests, autism spectrum disorder presents so differently in every patient means that getting an accurate and helpful diagnosis can be difficult.

Developmental screening and careful monitoring of your child’s development and communication can help detect early signs of ASD. Early detection means earlier intervention, and that means more effective therapies that can help your child live her best life.

Furthermore, ASD does not have typical “treatments” — nor do individuals with autism require them. Therapies specific to the individual can help improve different aspects of life with autism spectrum disorder. Unfortunately, these therapies can be costly, and insurance does not always cover all the support necessary.

Myth: The presence of autism spectrum disorder is the parents’ fault.

Fact:

No single cause has been determined for autism, although people on the autism spectrum do show differences in brain shape and structure. Various ongoing researches are investigating inherited predispositions, clusters of genes that may obstruct normal development, and factors like chemical exposure or certain viral infections during pregnancy in the development of autism.

These suggest ASD may develop because of a genetic predisposition to autism. The presence of some chronic diseases (fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and others) may also be connected with autism because ASD appears more frequently in individuals with these health problems. Furthermore, some genes may contain a predisposition for developing autism. Certain factors could alter or prompt the neurodiversity of ASD to develop.

Ultimately, however, no parenting style is expected to prevent or control the development of autism. In the 1950s, the “refrigerator mother hypothesis,” which has since been proven false, suggested autism was the result of mothers who were insufficiently emotionally warm.

Myth: Children with symptoms of autism will “grow out of it.”

Fact:

Again, autism spectrum disorder presents in the physical structure of the brain. Autism is a lifelong diagnosis. This does not mean a child can not learn ways to manage the symptoms specific to them, however. Physical, speech, and occupational therapies are just some of the methods available to help children with autism spectrum disorder learn to function independently and successfully.

For More Information

Integrity, Inc. is a Little Rock-based community services organization. We provide a variety of healthcare, rehabilitative, and childcare services. If you need support or assistance finding support or treatment opportunities for a child with autism, Integrity, Inc. can help! Contact us online, or call (591)614-7200!