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Life on the Spectrum: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions About Autism

Apr 02, 2024 04:00PM ● By Gift Joe

Image by pvproductions on Freepik

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with autism share similar symptoms, including problems with social communication and interaction, restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests, and others that affect their ability to function in school, work, and other areas of life. ASD can affect people of all genders, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds in varying ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. About 40% of individuals with autism are reportedly non-verbal, 90% have sensory issues, 40% have an anxiety disorder, and 30% have an intellectual disability.

Though awareness of autism has grown significantly in recent years, it is still a widely misunderstood condition, with many being confused about what causes it and how it affects people in very different ways. Autistic individuals still face discrimination and stigmatization. Sometimes, this stigmatization is because of the many myths and misconceptions surrounding autism.

April, which is Autism Acceptance Month, is a great time to debunk some of these myths and misconceptions and provide clarity on this often misunderstood condition. By dispelling these myths, we hope to promote a greater understanding of the condition, making room for a more inclusive and accepting society for individuals with autism.

Autism is a Childhood Condition

There is this misconception that autism is a childhood disorder that disappears with age. Though the characteristics are often first recognized in the developmental periods of childhood, ASD is a lifelong condition that continues to impact individuals throughout their lives.

Autism is impossible to outgrow as a person will live with it for the rest of their lives. However, early intervention and appropriate support can change the outcomes for people over time, leading to a better quality of life.

Autistic People Have a Special Talent

This is mostly a myth. It can be frustrating for a lot of parents and autistic adults who get asked about this. This misconception may be due to the portrayals of autism spectrum disorder in movies and literature, which often show special or “savant” skills, a very rare condition in which someone exhibits extraordinary and exceptional mental abilities. The existence of savant syndrome is not a myth. However, the assumption that all autistic people have a savant skill is a myth. People with autism do not automatically get special talents. While some may have exceptional talents or abilities in specific areas, such as music, art, or mathematics, this is not the case for everyone. Though there is a higher prevalence of savant abilities among those with autism, no more than 1 in 10 (or 10%) of autistic individuals display some advanced level of a particular skill.

Autism is Caused By Vaccination

This is a common myth that has been around over the last few decades despite there being no evidence of any link between vaccines and autism. The vaccine-autism myth started over 20 years ago following the publication of an infamous article in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. Andrew Wakefield, a former British doctor, falsely linked the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to autism.

Studies have shown that there is no link between autism and any vaccine or vaccine ingredient. There have been several scientific studies using a variety of different methods conducted over many years and none has turned up any evidence to support this myth. The reality is that autism is complex and seems to be caused by many different combinations of genes and environmental influences.

Image by Freepik

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Autism is a Disease

Another common misconception about autism is that it is a disease that can be cured with medicine and treatment like an illness.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects the cognitive, emotional, and social skills of an individual and is not a disease you catch. People with ASD are not ill and cannot be cured with medicine. They can still live completely independent, meaningful, healthy, and productive lives, especially with the aid of therapy and professional intervention.

Autism Can Be Cured

Since it is a developmental disorder and not a disease, there is no single "cure". However, there are a variety of therapies and support systems that can help individuals with autism thrive, reducing the impact of the spectrum disorder on their lives. They can develop adaptive skills necessary for daily life. They may acquire skills for behavior and emotion regulation, as well as, social engagement.

Autism is Caused By Bad Parenting

Though this myth has long been debunked, it persists in some circles. Research has proved that there is no link between bad parenting and autism. However, parenting style can help an autistic child cope with the world.

Everyone Living With Autism is Non-Verbal and Has Intellectual Disabilities

Another misconception people have is that all autistic individuals are incapable of communicating or have an intellectual or cognitive disability.

The truth is not everyone living with autism has issues with speaking or any other intellectual disability. It’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum, which means every case is not the same. It can range from mild to severe with everything in between, which is why different treatment methods exist depending on the case. Though some may experience cognitive or intellectual disabilities or speech disorders, this doesn’t mean that all people with autism experience these things. Many autistic individuals still speak and communicate verbally.

Autistic People Cannot Lead Independent Lives

It is not appropriate to assume that autistic individuals cannot live independently. With the right support, understanding, and accommodations, many people with autism can lead fulfilling and independent lives. They can thrive in various aspects, as some find success in careers where their attention to detail, pattern recognition, and other strengths shine.

People With Autism Lack Emotions and Empathy

Just because some autistic individuals struggle with social communication, including expressing their feelings in conventional ways, does not mean they lack empathy or emotions. Research has shown that people with autism can indeed experience all types of emotions, although they may express it differently from neurotypical individuals. Their emotions are as deep and genuine as anyone else's.

It is important to educate ourselves and others about autism. Remember that it is a spectrum, meaning each person experiences it differently. Dispelling these myths and misconceptions is a critical part of supporting and advocating for individuals with autism. We can create a more inclusive and accepting society by spreading awareness and understanding.

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