While autism has been here for many years(Myth #5 debunked!), it still remains an enigma of modern medicine. And over the years it has unfortunately been successful in associating itself with many myths and misconceptions.
So much has been said and written about autism that it might get difficult to separate fact from fiction. Here are a few myths that top the list, but have been debunked using facts and scientific research.
MYTH #1 : AUTISM IS CAUSED BY POOR PARENTING OR “REFRIGERATOR MOTHER”
TRUTH: In the 1950s, a widespread myth was that autism was caused by emotionally distant or cold parents, more specifically, a cold and distant mother(how easy is it to blame the mother!). However, a plethora of research has firmly established that the parenting style is not a contributing factor in the development of autism.
MYTH #2: AUTISM CAN BE CURED
TRUTH: This is a multifaceted and controversial topic. Autism presents in early childhood and continues throughout life. No “cure” for autism has been found till date. However, early and intensive therapy interventions can, in many cases, reduce the severity of symptoms and help the individual develop adaptive skills for independent daily living activities, emotional, sensory, behaviour regulation and social engagement.
MYTH #3: AUTISTIC PEOPLE CANNOT GO TO SCHOOL/COLLEGE/HAVE JOBS/GET MARRIED
TRUTH: Some autistic individuals might have difficulty in social situations, communication and flexibility and this has led to a common misconception that they will be unable to attend school or get higher education, have a job or get married and have kids. Total gibberish!
MYTH #4: AUTISM IS A MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER
TRUTH: Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.
MYTH #5: THE APPEARANCE OF AUTISM IS RELATIVELY NEW
TRUTH: Although it was first described in 1943 by scientist Leo Kranner, the earliest description of a child now known to have had autism was written in 1799. Throughout history, one can find stories of children who, in today’s date might have been identified as autistics. Advancements in research and diagnosis have identified that the characteristics of autism exist on a continuum with varying degrees of severity, intensity and frequency.
MYTH #6: AUTISTIC INDIVIDUALS ARE ANTI-SOCIAL AND DON’T FEEL EMOTIONS NOR EMPATHISE
TRUTH: These myths have surfaced because most autistic individuals lack the appropriate social skills, communicate emotions or express their needs or desires. Anxiety when faced with social situations and avoiding face to face contact puts them at a disadvantage uncalled for. They may express their emotions in a less obvious way, but they would more than love to have friends and reciprocate the emotions displayed towards them.
“I DON’T WANT FRIENDS, ALSO I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPINESS, SADNESS AND ANGER ARE.”, SAID NO AUTISTIC PERSON EVER!
MYTH #7: ALL AUTISTICS INDIVIDUALS ARE GENIUS/SAVANTS
TRUTH: “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism” – Stephen Shore. Just how each one of us is an individual of our own, no two autistic individuals are alike.
Only 10 percent of autistic individuals display savant skills in the form of exceptional eidetic memory, memorising books easily, playing difficult music on an instrument from a very early age, and calculating difficult mathematical problems quickly. This puts us at fault to expect every autistic child to turn out a savant/some kind of genius.
MYTH #8: AUTISTIC INDIVIDUALS HAVE MENTAL DISABILITIES
TRUTH: Just like many of us, autistic individuals fall into a range of mental capabilities. They can be harder to test, since various factors like social skills, language and interpersonal analysis, sensory integration issues, the environment where they are getting tested come into play, so IQ and abilities can be under or over-estimated.
Many individuals on the spectrum have earned college degrees and entered a variety of professions(scientists, OTs, SLPs, doctors, artists, university professors, tech giants and what not!).
MYTH #9: AUTISTIC INDIVIDUALS ARE VIOLENT
TRUTH: Violence and aggressive acts from autistic individuals usually are the result of sensory overload or emotional distress from the environment, they are never intentional or out of malice nor pose any danger to the society or children around them.
They won’t harm you unless you cause them harm- as simple as that.
MYTH #10: AUTISM IS CAUSED BY VACCINES.
TRUTH: Although this myth has been long proven otherwise, there is still some air around it. A 1998 study linking autism with childhood vaccines has since been retracted and numerous studies continue to negate this flawed belief.
MYTH #11: AUTISTIC INDIVIDUALS CAN’T STAND TO BE TOUCHED OR HAVE NO SENSE OF HUMOR
TRUTH: This can be true for some, while standing truly erroneous for others. Sensory sensitivity might lead to touch aversion while many individuals enjoy hugs, gentle or deep pressures and other forms of touch.
Likewise, they may express or share humor in non typical ways that are harder to recognise. Families have reported incidences of their autistic family members testing, telling jokes, goofing around, anticipating others will be entertained.
Ask families with autistics members about stories and they will fill you with loads of them.
Cohmer, Sean, “Early Infantile Autism and the Refrigerator Mother Theory (1943-1970)”.
Wing L. The History of Ideas on Autism: Legends, Myths and Reality.
Davidson, Michael. “Vaccination as a cause of autism-myths and controversies.”
John RP, Knott FJ, Harvey KN. Myths about autism: An exploratory study using focus groups.