With the growth of social media, it’s much harder for the general public to stay ignorant about autism. Yet, for those who have never had direct contact with autism, many myths and outdated ideas still exist. Keep reading to learn the Top Ten Most Outdated Ideas About Autism.
1 – Autism is Caused by Vaccines
Alright, I know you’ve heard more than your fair share about this issue, but we might as well start with the most common misconception. In 1998, a study published in The Lancet suggested that increases in vaccine use had led to an increase in autism.
However, that study was later retracted, and the medical research community has repeatedly refuted its conclusions.
Contrary to the political rhetoric surrounding this issue, there is NO room for debate on this one.
2 – Autism is More Nurture, Than Nature
While the causes of autism are still being studied, most experts suggest that there is no ONE cause of autism.
Theories range widely, but many doctors attribute autism to prenatal brain development, or gut bacteria. It’s also clear that genetics play a strong role for many children, as identical twins are frequently diagnosed with autism simultaneously (90% of the time).
3 – Autism Gives You Superpowers
Blame it on Rain Man and Dustin Hoffman, but many associate autism with savants. They are connected, but not nearly as often as most think.
In reality, only about 10% of those on the autism spectrum emerge as savants in a specific area. Like any person, children with autism are likely to demonstrate natural talents in certain areas, and struggles in others.
4 – Children who are non-verbal “have nothing to say”
For the untrained observer, some may conclude that children with autism simply have nothing to say. But, in most cases, they actually can’t form the words to communicate what’s on their mind.
This makes it even more imperative for people to pay attention to other methods of communication like body language and other cues.
Like everyone else, people with autism want to be “heard.” Find ways to encourage them to express themselves, even if they can’t carry on a direct conversation.
5 – Autism Removes the Ability to Empathize with Others
While many people with autism (especially children) find social situations extra challenging, that doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of connecting and empathizing with others.
For most with autism, they simply need to be taught. Remember when your mom taught you your table manners? In a similar fashion, autistic children CAN be taught how to connect with others. It just takes a little effort and patience.
6 – Autism is Caused by Bad Parenting
Try telling this one to the parent of a child with autism. They probably won’t hit you — they’re much more patient than you — but they will question your intelligence.
This misconception is the oldest in the book. Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘refrigerator mother’ theory suggested that autism was caused by “cold parents.” There’s absolutely no evidence to support this theory, so let’s put it to rest right away!
7 – They Should Just Try Harder
This misconception usually crops up in schools, or with adults who don’t understand how autism affects people differently.
They say things like “They’re not even trying…” or… “Someone needs to teach him his manners.”
But autism can’t be controlled, not even by adults who have lived with it for years, so how can we expect children to just “try harder?”
8 – “Meltdowns” Are Intentional
The “meltdowns” that frequently come with autism can be triggered by a variety of things that vary from person to person (sensory overload, fear, sleep deprivation, hunger, etc…)
But many adults perceive these meltdowns as “attention seeking” or manipulative. Just imagine having an anxiety attack in public, and then, instead of being helped, you’re mocked or ignored. Is that something that you would do intentionally?
I don’t think so.
9 – Autistic Children Don’t Want Friends
Children with autism, like everyone, have different preferences for their friendships, but most want to have at least a few friends.
While it can be difficult for autistic children to interact in large groups, many still want to be able to socialize with a few trusted friends.
This misconception is not only untrue, but it can also be extremely harmful to an autistic child’s development. We should help those with autism to form meaningful friendships, not avoid them.
10- Autistic Episodes Are Random
First of all, autism isn’t something that flips on and off like a switch. It’s a constant factor in the lives of those on the spectrum.
And, when meltdowns and episodes occur, they don’t occur out of nowhere. There is always a trigger, or a set of triggers, that become too overwhelming to handle.
If you’re a parent, teacher, or adult in regular contact with an autistic child, pay attention to the circumstances that seem to trigger these episodes. That’s the easiest way to prevent the child from having to endure them in the future.
It’s Our Responsibility to Learn
Imagine yourself with autism, overwhelmed by constant feelings that you can’t control or understand. Then imagine that you can’t articulate those feelings to the people around you. How would that feel?
If you have regular contact with someone on the autistic spectrum, they may not be able to articulate their condition to you. It’s our responsibility to learn as much as we can about autism, so that we can help those in our lives who live with it every day.
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