We know a lot more about autism than we did twenty years ago, ten years ago and even last year. Because autism affects so many children (1 in 68) we hear about many of the discoveries. We hear about what autism is and how it affects children. Even so, many misconceptions remain. The following are some of the persistent myths about autism.
Myth: Autism is becoming an epidemic.
Autism is not becoming an epidemic. It is true that more children are being diagnosed with autism than in the past but there are a number of reasons why this might be happening. One, there is more awareness about autism. Another reason is that autism has been expanded to be autism spectrum disorders so that those people who are high functioning autism or would previously have met the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s syndrome are included. Finally, we have developed both better screening methods as well as being able to diagnose children at a younger age. It isn’t neceassarily true that more people have autism than previously, it is possible we just have a better understanding and can better diagnose them.
Myth: Vaccines cause autism.
This myth has been proven to be false and the study which originally linked vaccines to autism has been retracted and the doctor, Andrew Wakefield involved in the study was found to have falsified information and no longer practices medicine. Since this time, a number of studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism and have found vaccines to be safe. Despite this, the myth continues, with some parents refusing vaccines for fear of their child developing autism.
Myth: Children with autism don’t have emotions.
Children with autism have trouble expressing their emotions. Many do not like physical affection, such as hugging, or even touching. When a child feels uncomfortable with touching or physical affection, it is usually because of sensory sensitivities rather than a lack of emotion. Children with autism do have emotion, they feel love, they feel happiness, excitement, frustration and sadness. It is that they don’t express them in the same way, for example, frustration might show up as a meltdown.
Myth: Children with autism prefer to be alone and don’t want to have friends.
Children with autism are often socially awkward. They don’t understand the rules of social engagement and have trouble communicating with others. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want friends and don’t want to connect with others. Many children with autism do want friends but become frustrated and give up because they simply don’t have the skills and don’t understand how to make friends.
Myth: People with autism don’t have empathy.
Those with autism don’t always understand "unspoken" communication. They might not understand by looking at your facial expression that you are sad or unhappy. But, when emotions are clearly expressed in other ways, such as in words, they can and do feel empathy.
Myth: Children with autism are all geniuses.
Some children with autism are geniuses, just like some children without autism are geniuses. Some children with autism are cognitively impaired and some are of average intelligence. Children with autism fall on all ranges of the IQ scale, just as all children do.
Myth: All people with autism have a special gift, such as a "super" memory.
The character in Rain Man has shaped many opinions of what autism looks like. There are some people with autism who do have such capabilities, however, not everyone with autism does. But just as everyone, those with autism and those without, have strengths and gifts, so do those with autism. Many are good at math, science and technology. But there are many in other fields as well. It is true that people with autism see the world in a different way, but they also have much to offer and share with the world.
For more information:
"Autism Myths and Misconceptions," 2013, July 29, Staff Writer, PBS.org
"Autism Spectrum Disorder: Myths and Facts," 2003, Barbara T. Doyle, John Hopkins University
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.