5 Myths About Autism: Debunking Common Misconceptions
When you spend as much time researching and studying autism as we do, you'll discover that everyone has their own theories about why children develop the way they do. Every day, fresh theories and opinions emerge in our social media feeds and comment sections. While some of these beliefs may be accurate, an overwhelming number of them are either unsupported assertions or misinterpretations of what we know about autism. That's why we enjoy debunking myths! When it comes to autism, there are many false facts out there that can mislead parents who may be worried about their child developing the condition.
Here are the top 5 myths about autism that you should never believe:
Vaccines cause autism.
This is one of the most dangerous myths out there, which is why it’s the first one we’re tackling in this article. To break it down, there are two major pieces of evidence that suggest that vaccines cause autism. The first is a 1998 research in The Lancet that connected the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to an increased risk of autism. However, once the authors were discovered to be fabricating data, the paper was retracted shortly after it was published. The second piece of "proof" that vaccines cause autism comes in the form of a graph that compares the rise in autism diagnoses with the rise in vaccinations. An exploding line graph that moves up and to the right is commonly used to depict this. In various instances, this graph has been proved to be misleading and erroneous. For starters, it ignores the fact that children with autism are identified at various ages, and that many children are diagnosed in or after their first year of life. This implies there's a good probability the diagnosis will be made around the same time the child gets his or her vaccines. Unfortunately, this has led many people to believe the two are connected when, in fact, they are purely coincidental. Even when these details are considered, the graph remains very misleading. This is due to the fact that it ignores substantial changes in the way autism is diagnosed. In 1994, 2002, and 2008, the diagnostic criteria for autism were considerably revised. As a result, the upward trend in the graph reflects the fact that autism is currently being diagnosed more properly and frequently than ever before.
Children with autism are intellectually disabled.
This myth is often paired with the previous one. However, this is not true! While studies show that about some children with autism have an intellectual disability, others score within the normal range. The confusion here comes from the misconception that “intellectual disability” means “lacking in intelligence” which is not true. In fact, an intellectual disability is a completely different thing. Rather than being a lack of intelligence, it’s more of a problem with how the brain processes information. Children who do have an intellectual disability will score significantly lower on certain parts of an IQ test than their non-autistic peers. However, they are not lacking in intelligence. They are simply not using that intelligence in the best way possible.
People with autism cannot learn
This is another common myth that we see out there. It’s easy to see how people jump to this conclusion, as there are numerous variations of the definition of autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines autism as “a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain” that can “last throughout a person’s life”. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines autism as “a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave”. With all of these variations, it’s easy to see how someone could jump to the conclusion that all of this means no hope or no way out for their child. It's important to know that developmental disorders like autism, dyslexia, and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not diseases that you are born with and then die with. Rather, they are things that develop over time. This means that it is still possible to make positive changes to a child’s autism, even when he or she has been diagnosed since birth. And many autistic children have done just that! There are many success stories of children who were diagnosed with autism and now are happy, healthy, fully functioning adults. This doesn’t mean that there’s a cure for autism, but rather that treatments and therapies can help autistic children improve their communication skills and social interactions to achieve a level of success that would have been almost impossible for them to achieve in the past.
Everyone with autism has the same symptoms.
This myth is closely tied to the myth that all autistic children are intellectually disabled. Just like those children who are diagnosed with “autism” are likely to be just as capable as the children who are diagnosed with “ASD,” autistic children who have the same symptoms are likely to have the same needs and desires as those with different symptoms. This myth also applies to the idea that all autistic people are loners who don’t want to be around other people. While it’s true that many autistic people prefer to be alone from time to time, many of them also crave social interaction. This myth is likely to come from two places. The first is the fact that autistic people are often misread and misinterpreted. This means that they may appear to be aloof or uninterested when they are actually just distracted by their own thoughts. The second is that many autistic children don’t have the communication skills to vocalize what they actually want and need.
People with autism can’t feel emotions.
This is one of the most frustrating myths out there, as it has led to many parents and caregivers not understanding how their children are processing the world around them. This myth also has a lot to do with how a child is diagnosed with autism. Because autistic children are likely to have trouble correctly interpreting social cues and emotions, many of them are given a diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder” rather than “autism.” This means that a doctor might not include emotional deficiencies in their diagnosis. This, in turn, can lead to parents and caregivers not understanding the full extent of their child’s difficulties or needs. It can also lead to parents and caregivers believing that their autistic children have no emotions at all. This is not true! Just because someone struggles to process social cues doesn’t mean that they have no emotions. In fact, there is a lot of research to suggest that autistic children experience emotions just like everyone else.
When you consider how many false facts and misunderstandings there are about autism, it’s easy to see why so many people are hesitant to call their child “autistic.” Autism is a completely normal part of the human condition. It affects 1 in 44 people in the United States alone and is more common in boys than girls. It has been around for as long as civilization has existed and has likely been present in every civilization and culture the world has ever known. Autism is simply a difference in brain wiring that makes it difficult for a person to interact with and interpret the world around them. If you have a child who seems to be behind in social or communication skills or seems to be in their own world a lot, it’s okay to get them tested. There is nothing to be ashamed of in the diagnosis of autism, and it can be treated and managed with the right support.