April is Autism Awareness Month. Although there is thankfully much more understanding and acceptance of Autism Spectrum Disorders than there was in the past, there continues to be numerous myths and misconceptions about Autism.
Myth #1 Autism is very rare. Autism impacts about 1 in every 59 people meaning that more than 3.5 million Americans live with Autism.
Myth #2 People with Autism cannot function in society. Autism is a spectrum disorder and, therefore, the skills and abilities of people with ASD range significantly. Many people with Autism are highly successful and influential. Others have more challenges and needs. An individual with ASD may have support needs in one area of life but thrive in other aspects of life. Many people with Autism get advanced degrees, have jobs, and have families.
Myth #3 All people with Autism have special talents or are savants. While individuals with Autism have a range of strengths and skills, most individuals with autism do not have extraordinary savant gifts. Savant gifts (like those featured in the movie Rain Man) are rare.
Myth #4 Autism is caused by vaccines. Unfortunately, the myth that vaccines cause Autism continues to be held by some groups. Scientific research has disproven any link between vaccines and Autism. The study that started this myth had falsified data. At this time, there does not appear to be one cause of Autism but rather multiple factors including environmental and genetic predispositions that may culminate and lead to these brain differences.
Myth #5 People with Autism do not have feelings or care about others. This could not be further from the truth! Individuals with Autism feel emotions just like all people. Often times, people with Autism struggle with identifying and verbalizing these feelings. They may feel emotions more strongly than others and have difficulty dealing with these strong feelings. People with Autism can develop strong, loving relationships.
Myth #6 People with Autism do not want or need friends. Again, most people with Autism want friends just like most individuals without Autism want friends. Making and maintaining friendships can be more challenging for some people on the spectrum but these relationships remain important.
Myth #7 Having Autism means that something is wrong. Although Autism is often diagnosed by deficits or difficulties in areas, people with Autism simply see the world, think, and communicate in different ways. Many people with Autism can “think outside of the box” and come up with solutions that may not have been thought of in the past.
Myth #8 Autism only affects children. Autism is a lifelong condition and affects people throughout the lifespan. Like everyone else, children with Autism grow up and become adults.
Myth #9 Autism is caused by bad parenting. This myth is simply not true. Autism is not caused by any certain parenting style. Again, research indicates that there are likely multiple factors, including environmental and genetic predispositions, that culminate and lead to these brain differences.
Myth #10 All people with Autism are nonverbal. Autism is a spectrum disorder and, therefore, there are a variety of communication levels. While some individuals with Autism do not speak or speak very little, others may be highly verbal. In fact, you’ve probably held conversations with people with Autism and not known it! Many individuals with autism who do not speak use alternative communication methods, like voice output devices or picture systems. Even if a person doesn’t speak, they are still able to understand spoken language.
Written by Tiffany Born, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Kirsten Cooper, MSW
To find out more information about Autism and how to connect to resources in your area, contact the Autism Society of Wisconsin.