Autism myths and misconceptions

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Image caption: Counter fear with facts when discussions come up. Here’s eight myths that still circulate about ASD — some hold up, but some are just lies. (Source: SamiMe via Shutterstock)

Every person with autism spectrum disorder is different. There are many myths and stereotypes associated with autism and it’s important to know what’s real and what isn’t. Here, we debunk some common myths about people with autism.

Key points:

  • Debunking stereotypes is important as many of them which are associated with autism are just myths
  • Each person with autism is unique, so they have different experiences of living with autism
  • Some myths, such as the false belief that vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can harm the disability community and the wider public

There are many myths and stereotypes associated with ASD and it’s important to know what’s real and what isn’t.

Although symptoms for ASD can often mean that people with autism share similarities in how they present themselves and the way that they behave, the umbrella of ASD can include high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome all the way through to someone in the third stage of support levels for autism.

This edition of Disability Support Guide will cover and clarify the eight following myths and misconceptions surrounding ASD:

  • “People with autism are computer geniuses/savants”
  • “People with autism can’t work”
  • “People with autism like dark, quiet places”
  • “People with autism don’t like relationships”
  • “Autism has a cure/prevention method”
  • “Vaccines cause autism”
  • “Only boys have autism”
  • “People with autism are unemotional”


Myth: “People with autism are computer geniuses/Savants”

Fact: The myth that people with autism are computer geniuses or savants has some basis to it, but is not true.

Research has found that Savant syndrome can occur in up to 37 percent of people diagnosed with ASD and coincides with the developmental learning model of a person with autism, due to their niche and focused interests.

However, the verdict is still not clear as to whether Savant syndrome develops as a result of time dedicated to a task or field, as opposed to a natural ability to learn at the same rate as the general population.

Many people with autism have normal to high IQs which means they are often very successful in music, maths or computing, which is where the generalised ‘computer genius’ stereotype may stem from.


Myth: “People with autism can’t work”

Fact: A diagnosis of level one autism is the least severe diagnosis. People with level one autism may have visible issues with social communication and behaviour. These issues may cause challenges in some settings. These difficulties require some support to overcome.

A diagnosis of level two autism is more severe than level one. With level two autism, someone may experience a more obvious lack of social communication (verbal and non-verbal) and behaviours. To improve this, they will require substantial support from support services.

Level three autism is the most severe autism diagnosis. Someone with level three autism may display severe repetitive or restrictive behaviours and difficulty with social communication. Someone with level three autism will require very substantial support services.

Depending on the level of autism a person is diagnosed with and the support that they require, severe and rare instances of ASD would restrict the person’s ability to work, but this would only impact a minority of people with an ASD diagnosis.


Myth: “People with autism like dark, quiet places”

Fact: As every person with autism is different, they experience a range of sensory sensitivities. Some prefer darker, quiet places to avoid feeling overwhelmed, while others may not. Sensory rooms are dedicated spaces to help people with autism manage how they feel within their environment and prevent them feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

People with autism are not alone in having sensory or processing overload, requiring time to cool off, as people with anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder have sensory triggers too and can refresh themselves with the necessary time to refresh.


Myth: “People living with autism don’t do relationships”

Fact: This is not true. People with autism interact with others in different ways which may come across as being disinterested. They can find it challenging to read non-verbal forms of communication such as facial expressions, body language, physical gestures and eye contact.

However, as they learn to recognise social cues, they are capable of building strong friendships. Everyone needs friends and people with autism are no different.

Just like with friendships, people with autism are also very capable of building and maintaining romantic relationships. Although they find it difficult to read body language and social cues, many people with autism find themselves in happy and healthy relationships.


Myth: “There is a cure and prevention for autism”

Fact: There is no ‘fix’ for autism and why should there be? People with autism are wonderful, empathetic and caring individuals.

However, early diagnosis and targeted intervention can help children with autism on their functioning, socialisation and development, so that they can be the best version of themselves as they grow up.


Myth: “Vaccinations cause autism”

Fact: There is also no scientific evidence to suggest vaccinating your child causes autism.

This myth originates from Andrew Wakefield, who is no longer a doctor after worsening a measles outbreak through publishing inaccurate information relating to vaccines. Speak to a medical professional who has not been stripped of their credentials if you are worried about a vaccination.


Myth: “Only boys have autism”

Fact: Research suggests that boys are, on average, four times more likely to have autism than girls.

However, this may hide the true incidence of autism in girls and women, with some estimates ranging from 7:1 to as low as 2:1 (that is, two boys for every girl with autism).


Myth: “People with autism are ‘unemotional’”

Fact: People diagnosed with autism can find it difficult reading the body language and emotions of others, this can be misunderstood as a lack of emotion or empathy. Generally, they find it difficult to express their emotions or do so in different ways, but this doesn’t mean they don’t feel them.

What myths do you want debunked about autism? Tell us in the comments below.

Article originally published by author Nicole Pope in 2019.

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