Understanding the Spectrum: 5 Common Myths About Autism Debunked

Myths About Autism Debunked

The field of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has seen significant development in understanding and awareness over the years, allowing medical professionals to diagnose ASD more accurately and provide more effective treatment options. 

In fact, over the past decade, the combined prevalence of ASD amongst children has increased from 1 in 68 in 2010 to 1 in 36 in 2020. Despite this progress in diagnosis, misconceptions and myths still surround this complex neurological and developmental disorder. 

Whether someone in your life is living with ASD, you work in the mental health industry or are enrolled in a psychology course online, it’s important to examine and debunk these myths to foster a deeper understanding of people living with ASD and reduce the potential harm of these misconceptions. 

1. Vaccines cause autism

With the advent of COVID-19, vaccines have become even more of a hot topic. One of the myths surrounding them is that they can cause autism, which has been consistently refuted. The 1998 study that is often cited draws a causal link between vaccination and autism but has since been proven false, and the journal has since issued an apology, highlighting the need to rely on strong, evidence-based information. There is no singular cause of autism, and current research suggests ASD is caused by a combination of genetic, developmental, and environmental factors. 

2. All people with Autism Have Extraordinary Savant Skills

When some people think of autism, media depictions like Rainman or The Accountant are often the first that come to mind. While it’s true that some people can have exceptional skills in areas like mathematics, music, art, or literature, not everyone on the spectrum exhibits these kinds of talents. Approximately 10% of people with ASD have savant abilities, so it’s important to acknowledge that every person with autism is unique and assigning a stereotype of brilliance can be harmful.

3. Autism Can Be “Cured”

Autism is a lifelong neurological and developmental diagnosis characterised by differences in behaviour, social communication, and sensory processing. There is no one-size-fits-all “cure” or treatment that will work for every person diagnosed with the condition. Early intervention, therapy, and support services can all be effective tools to improve the outcomes of people on the spectrum, but what’s more important is acceptance and understanding of ASD as a complex condition that requires careful attention. The belief in a “cure” also feeds into the harmful notion that there is something “wrong” with people living with ASD, which can make the day-to-day experience of people living with this condition difficult and alienating. 

4. Autism Only Affects Children

Because ASD is often diagnosed during childhood development, as well as the lack of diagnosis of the condition in older generations, there is a tendency to believe that the condition only affects children. In fact, autism is a lifelong condition that extends into adulthood. Symptoms can change and evolve over time and, with the proper help and support, people with the condition can adapt and cope with the challenges that accompany ASD. During the transition to adulthood, they may run into unique difficulties related to education, employment, living independently, and relationships. It’s important to acknowledge and understand the needs of adults with autism to accommodate their place in a diverse society.

5. People with Autism Can’t Feel Every Emotion

This is one of the more dangerous misconceptions on this list, as it can “other” those living with ASD. To put it plainly, people with autism can experience a full range of emotions. While their expression and perception of emotions may differ, people on the spectrum experience joy, sadness, anger, fear, and love like anyone else. Challenges in social interaction and sensory sensitivities can influence how emotions are expressed and interpreted, and this is where the root of the myth lies. Despite these differences, the emotional experiences of people with ASD are valid and meaningful, and acknowledging and debunking this myth is an important part of creating an inclusive society.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex diagnosis that was misunderstood and underreported in the past, leading to the spread of harmful stereotypes and myths that have just been debunked in this article. It’s important to remember that, above all, people living with autism are people first. Don’t let the presence of a diagnosis cloud your initial judgement of someone, but instead focus on treating people with the kindness, compassion, and patience that they deserve.

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