Despite the fact that around one in every 68 children will be diagnosed with some form of autism, the disorder is not easily understood. Unfortunately there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding autism, and it leads to unnecessary fear and turmoil for both the diagnosed child and the parents. With proper treatment from a Newport Beach child psychiatrist who specializes in autism, many children on the spectrum can go on to lead normal, fulfilling lives.
Misinformation about autism is everywhere, so it’s difficult to separate fact and fiction. This is mainly due to the fact that, though autism itself is not new, it’s a fairly newly discovered disorder—and, unfortunately, its exact cause is unknown. Here are ten misconceptions about autism along with ten corresponding facts:
- Misconception: Autism is caused by vaccines, poor parenting or solely by environmental factors.
Fact: There is no evidence that childhood vaccinations cause autism. Only one study ever linked the two, and it has since been discredited. Autism is certainly not caused by poor parenting or foods the child’s mother ate while pregnant, nor is it caused solely by environmental factors.
While environmental factors may play a part, genes are most likely one of the causes of autism. Parents whose first child falls on the spectrum are more likely than the general population to have a second child who is affected. Studies on identical twins have shown that if one twin is autistic, the other twin has a 90% chance of being on the spectrum as well.
Spreading the misinformation that parents are to blame for autism causes needless guilt, shame and fear. Scientists do not know exactly what causes it, but they are getting better at weeding out causes.
- Misconception: Autism is new.
Fact: Autism is not new. It was first described by a scientist named Leo Kranner in 1943, but the earliest description of an autistic child was written in 1799. Autism itself is most likely much older.
- Misconception: Autism is a mental disorder.
Fact: Autism is a neurological disorder. People with autism have abnormalities in their brain structure and neurotransmitter levels.
- Misconception: Autism can be cured.
Fact: Luckily, there are now many resources available for people with autism. Treatment from an autism specialist starting during childhood can have lasting benefits. In fact, some people who receive treatment from a young age are able to live such normal lives that no one would know they have it unless they volunteer the information. But at this time, there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders.
- Misconception: Autistic people are violent.
Fact: Violent acts from people with autism usually arise from sensory overload or severe emotional distress. It is actually very unusual for individuals with autism to act violent or pose a danger to society, especially if they are receiving treatment.
- Misconception: People with autism are cold and lack empathy.
Fact: Actually, autistic people feel as much, if not more, empathy than others. They just express it in ways that are harder for people to recognize.
- Misconception: Only children have autism.
Fact: A child with autism grows up to be an adult with autism. Some people are not even diagnosed until adulthood. That being said, some autistic people respond so well to treatment that they eventually “test out” of the spectrum.
- Misconception: All individuals with autism have savant abilities.
Fact: A savant skill is something extraordinary, like having a photographic mind or being capable of extreme memorization. While there is a higher prevalence of savant abilities among people with autism, not all autistic people have them. In fact, only about 10% of them do. “Splinter skills,” which are skills in one or two areas that are above average performance abilities, are much more common.
- Misconception: Autistic people all have mental disabilities.
Fact: Individuals on the autism spectrum are unique, and their intellectual abilities and shortcomings vary. While autistic people often struggle with social skills and completing tasks, they certainly do not all have mental disabilities.
- Misconception: People with autism don’t want friends.
Fact: This is one of the most hurtful myths out there. People with autism struggle with social skills and might seem unfriendly at first, but that’s because they are not able to communicate as effectively as others. They do want friends, and they are fully capable of having healthy relationships.
If your child, friend or a relative has been diagnosed with autism, doing some research will help ease your fears and concerns. While a diagnosis will mean the individual will face some challenges, it doesn’t mean the end of the possibility of a normal life. People with autism have gone on to earn Master’s degrees, hold prestigious jobs and have happy marriages and children. Dispelling the myths helps put society on a path toward understanding.