Although the awareness of autism has grown considerably compared to a decade ago, some misconceptions about autism still live among us. Those misconceptions and lack of understanding can cause a delayed autism diagnosis and limit the support people with autism need. In some cases, some people on the autism spectrum can feel excluded and alone. They may also experience bullying and abuse so it’s very important to eliminate those beliefs which we know are not true!
1. Children with autism are naughty
Image when you’re in a supermarket and you see a child is shouting and hurting his mother, the first thought that comes into your mind may be ‘he’s naughty’. However, have you ever thought that the child may live with autism? What you saw is a set of behaviours in response to sensory changes or repetitive behaviours. For many people with autism, they have sensory differences to the noise, light, crowds, smells, temperature of certain places. Those senses may be over (hyper) or under (hypo). If they cannot tolerate any of those senses, they may create or react inappropriately.
2. Autism is caused by bad parenting and vaccines
Parenting style does Not cause autism. Science is also clear that MMR vaccines (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) do NOT cause autism. The precise causes of autism are still unknown. Science research suggests that the causes of autism are likely to be genetic and environmental. However, it is very unlikely that a single genetic or environmental factor causes autism. Parental age can also be the contribution of autism.
3. Autism only affects children and can be outgrown
There is no cure for autism. It is a long-life condition that persists in adulthood and it CANNOT be outgrown. Bearing in mind people have been diagnosed in their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s even. Autism affects different people in different ways. The impact of some symptoms can change as the person grows. That is to say, people with autism can improve their communication and social skills by appropriate practice and the right support. They can still have fulfilling and rewarding lives.
4. All people with autism has the same skills and difficulties
Autism is a spectrum which means it could be less autistic or more autistic in a person. It covers a wide range of developmental delays and symptom severity. We should not see in a single continuous but instead more like an array of symptoms. Although many people with autism share common difficulties in the core areas of communication, social and repetitive behaviours and sensory processing, every one of them has their unique abilities, interests and needs. That’s why it’s important to tailor the type of support based on the person’s individual needs.
5. Autism is just about the difficulties
Autism affects people of all abilities, but around half of the people with autism also have an intellectual disability (IQ 69 or below). People with autism can have specific strengths in certain areas such as math or computer skills. This may be related to their very specific interests. Very few of them can have what would be termed as ‘savant’ (exceptional and genius-like) abilities.
6. Only boys have autism
Autism can affect all gender! Research shows that boys are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism compared to girls. However, it doesn’t mean autism has a bigger impact on boys compared to girls. It’s because it’s more difficult to identify the autistic traits in girls.
Why is that? One, the process of diagnosis tools tends to find autistic traits more common in boys. Two, researchers believe that girls and women tend to conceal their autistic tendencies by mimicking neurotypical social behaviours, which is called the Female Camouflaging Hypothesis. Hence, it might be the reasons why a delay of an autism diagnosis in girls is common.
7. People with autism are robots
Autism affects communication skills, but it doesn’t affect a person to experience emotions. Autistic people aren’t robots, they just not always express their feelings in the way we would expect.
8. People with autism can’t show empathy.
People with autism have a profound difficulty understanding the minds of other people, their emotions, feelings, beliefs and thoughts. It’s described as lacking ‘theory of mind’. It looks like they don’t care or lack empathy. However, sometimes they haven’t realised that they may have made a social mistake and can be upset if this is explained to them.
If emotions are communicated more directly to them, they are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.
9. People with autism don’t want to form social relationships
It’s not that people with autism don’t want to make friends. Some people on the autism spectrum do want to form relationships. They just find it difficult! Some adults with autism find it hard to understand the hidden social rules in interacting with others e.g. taking turns to talk or the comfortable distance to stand from the person they are talking to. Many autistic people only like to talk about the things that they are interested in. They may not be able to spot social cues and body language e.g. whether the person is bored or wants to talk about something else.
It’s also important to note that, meeting new friends and being in an unfamiliar environment can easily trigger their anxiety, some of them may prefer to avoid situations where they would feel anxious. It’s not because they don’t want to make friends.
10. Autism is a mental health disorder
Autism is a developmental disorder. Although some challenging behaviours and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can co-occur alongside this condition. Autism is not a mental health disorder.
Free feel to comment down below to tell us about any other misconceptions about autism that you’ve heard.