It is important for our community to recognise the common misconceptions about Autism and deepen understanding. These common misconceptions are explored below.
Myth Busted: Every person with Autism is unique and has different abilities and interests. Each individual with Autism will experience differences in the way they communicate, their sensory needs, and social interaction. This is why Autism is called a ‘spectrum disorder’, and why supports should be tailored to the person’s individual needs.
“If you’ve met one individual with Autism, you’ve met one individual with Autism.” – Dr Stephen Shore
Myth Busted: Every person has strengths. A person with Autism’s level of ability may vary across different skills and even within the same skill area. Some people with Autism do indeed have an exceptional ability far above that of the general population (also called a ‘savant skill’). Research tells us that more than two-thirds of people with Autism don’t.
While some people with Autism may have a savant skill, like having a photographic memory, or the ability to compute complex mathematical equations quickly and Autism may be linked in some way, others may not. The best way to learn about someone’s strengths is by getting to know who they are as a person and what they love.
Myth Busted: Every individual is unique. While some people with Autism may only be diagnosed with Autism, other people can be neurodivergent (a cognitive variation).
Some common conditions that may co-occur with Autism (also known as ‘comorbidity’) include:
- Intellectual Disability or Developmental Delays
- Seizures and Epilepsy
- Fragile X Syndrome
- Tuberous Sclerosis
- Gastro-intestinal problems
- Feeding issues
- Disrupted sleep
- Motor Challenges
Comorbid conditions can appear at any time during a person’s life. Some may be present from birth or in childhood, while others might only appear later in adolescence or adulthood. It is important to identify co-occurring conditions and seek appropriate treatment for them as some of the symptoms may affect how well Autism strategies and therapies work.
Click here to read more about conditions that can occur with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Myth Busted: Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition. While some people with Autism can have an intellectual disability, others have an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) within the typical range or higher. Estimated rates of intellectual disability in Autism vary widely and are influenced by the intelligence tests used and the samples of people involved. In some cases, a measure of IQ is taken during the initial Autism assessment process. Determining IQ in children can be more difficult, and an accurate measure may not always be possible. It is imperative to support a person with Autism to live a fulfilled life by not restricting their opportunities for education and social interaction.
Myth Busted: Every child and adult with Autism is different in the way they communicate. Some children may speak earlier than their typically developing peers but may have an unusual style of communication (such as overly formal speech or a strong preference to talk about particular subjects). Other children may have delayed speech or may not use words to communicate. It is important to note that there is a very wide range of skills and abilities amongst children with Autism in relation to speech, and communication overall.
It is also important to remember that even if a person is unable to speak, they still have the capacity, the need, and the right to communicate, and this needs to be supported. There are many ways to support someone with complex communication to effectively express themselves, build relationships, take part in social activities and participate in their community.
When a person’s speech does not meet all their needs, Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) strategies can be of great value. AAC strategies are offered by our therapy team at the Autism Association.
Myth Busted: People with Autism have a full range of feelings and emotions. How each person expresses emotions and the level of their ability to express emotions varies. Research confirms that people with Autism have a full spectrum of emotions. It’s important to support a person who is trying to express their emotions by listening to their body language, being patient, and helping them to utilise communication strategies.
As part of the social communication challenges associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is not uncommon for people with Autism to have trouble recognising and interpreting the emotions of others, which can add to the misunderstanding about Autism and emotions. It is important to remember that people with Autism do have emotions, are caring and loving, and their feelings can be hurt, just like anyone else.
Myth Busted: Like all children, children with Autism have needs and rights to communicate these needs. If children aren’t able to communicate their needs, this can become distressful for them.
Behaviours of concern are often a communication of last resort. Behaviours of concern are often related to a lack of alternative skills, or difficulties coping in the sensory environment, regulating emotions or communicating needs.
In some cases, a child with Autism may show interest in the reactions of people who are hurt or upset but may not understand what these emotions mean. It is rare for a child with Autism to intentionally cause harm to another person. It is important to give a child the right tools and strategies so they can effectively express their wants and needs.
Myth Busted: People with Autism often have very strong bonds with important people in their lives. They can and do have fulfilling relationships with family, friends, partners and children.
Studies have shown that most people with Autism want to form relationships with others. For some people with Autism it can be difficult to understand social cues and navigate social interactions. It is important to recognise that seeming uninterested is not necessarily the same as being uninterested.
There are a variety of strategies that can help support social connections (like activities to develop social thinking and planned events around shared interests). Relationships are a ‘two-way street’, and success is never the responsibility of only one party.
Developing Autism understanding, can also help those without Autism to be more considerate and accepting of the differences in people with Autism, thus promoting positive social connections.
Myth Busted: Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition. While mental illness can occur alongside Autism (like anxiety or depression), Autism is not a mental health disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has reflected our evolving understanding of Autism.
Many years ago, Autism was considered a ‘psychiatric’ condition, but a growing body of research has disproved this. It is important to take time to recognise if a person with Autism also has a mental illness and support them to make the environment, they are in more comfortable for them.
Myth Busted: An increase in Autism awareness and understanding has also led to improved developmental monitoring and detection of the early signs of Autism, with parents and professionals more actively seeking referral for Autism assessment.
Due to greater knowledge and understanding of Autism, we have better ways of assessing and diagnosing Autism, this allows individuals to receive appropriate and tailored support. Using the term ‘Autism epidemic’ carries the implication that Autism is contagious.
It is important to note that Autism is not an illness or a disease, and perpetuating this myth is likely to create unnecessary community concern and further stigmatise Autism.
Myth Busted: Parenting style does not cause Autism. There is no single known cause for Autism.
Sometimes parents will need to adapt the environment in which the child lives in to meet the needs of their child, and this may appear unusual to those around them who are unfamiliar with Autism.
Adjustments in ‘parenting style’ may in fact be necessary to help their child cope with the situation or setting they are in. Family centred Autism services can help parents and other caregivers identify strategies that work for their family as well as ways to advocate for their child.
Myth Busted: There is no reliable scientific evidence that childhood vaccinations cause Autism. There is reliable evidence that not vaccinating children has led to an increase in preventable and sometimes life-threatening diseases. One well known but flawed research paper reported a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) immunisation and Autism. When the flaws in the study were revealed, the paper was later retracted and the research discredited. Several large scale studies have since examined the possibility of a link between MMR and Autism and have found no evidence to support the link.
Myth Busted: There is currently no known cure for Autism, but through appropriate intervention children can acquire many of the skills they need for a successful and full life. Although some proponents of certain treatments may describe children who have been ‘cured’, it is more likely that these children have been particularly successful in acquiring skills which enable them to function more effectively through their everyday life. For example, with enhanced social skills the child with Autism may appear indistinguishable from their typical peers. However, that same child may struggle to maintain those skills and deal with other aspects of Autism throughout their life. In some cases, children described as being ‘cured’ may have been wrongly diagnosed having displayed some features of Autism. A comprehensive assessment may have found the child did not display the signs required to meet the Autism diagnostic criteria. Although there is no known cure, the skills that can be acquired in early intervention can provide a firm basis for ongoing skill development. With the appropriate support, people with Autism – from childhood to adulthood – can lead happy and productive lives. The term Autism refers to a diverse range of conditions. Children with Autism are as different from one another as their typically developing peers are from one another. We do not yet know the causes of Autism, but we do know that it is a life-long condition related to differences in early development. Although there is no cure for Autism, early intervention can teach children the skills necessary for a full life.