There is a common saying that goes “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. No two people are exactly alike. Though some symptoms are more common than others, how they affect a person and to what extent can differ. One person does not represent the entire spectrum.
Researchers have been studying autism for years. Their understanding of the disorder has vastly improved, but there is still much to learn. Approximately 1 out of every 68 children is on the spectrum. Though the prevalence has increased over the years, one also has to take into consideration the fact that our understanding of autism has improved and diagnosing criteria has changed. Regardless of what researchers now know, there are still many myths and misconceptions that exist surrounding autism spectrum disorders:
- People with autism are emotionless.
It’s not that those with ASD lack emotion, they just interpret and express it in different ways. They do not generally pick up on subtle cues about feelings, but when stated more directly, they do understand. They may also not know how to show or communicate their own emotions in a way that is perceived as typical, but they do experience a range of emotions.
- People with autism are not as smart as others, or they’re savants.
These are opposite extremes, and just like neurotypical peers, those with autism can fall anywhere in the middle as well. Some are extremely gifted in certain areas and known as savants (think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man). Others may have intellectual challenges. But there are plenty who fall in the middle and are just as capable of learning as anyone else. Many people with autism do have high intellect, and it may be focused in one particular area for some. With the right tools and support, those with ASD hold great potential, just like anyone else.
- Autism is caused by vaccines.
This myth exploded back in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Since then, no other study has shown that vaccines cause autism. Dr. Wakefield’s paper was later retracted and he lost his medical license. Researchers do not have a specific cause for autism, but know that genetics do play a part. It can run in families but does not always.
- People with autism are violent.
You may have seen a child (or adult) with autism having a meltdown or lashing out. However, this is not their behavior all the time. There are plenty of people out and about in the world with autism that you might never notice because they seem just like anyone else you pass on the street. Meltdowns and outbursts are often caused by an overload of emotions or sensory stimulation. Certain situations can be overwhelming and someone with autism may not be able to process everything as quickly or effectively as someone else. This can lead to outbursts. But in general, people with autism are no more dangerous than anyone else.
- People with autism like to be alone.
Humans are naturally social beings. It is not that those with ASD do not want friends, or do not want to be around other people, but it can be hard. They do not have the same social skills as others do, and this can make connecting and interacting difficult. Children with autism want friends and want to be accepted, they just need help doing so.
- Autism can be cured.
There are no special diets, exercises, therapies or medications that can “cure” autism, especially since scientists have not pinpointed an exact cause. ASD is composed of a wide range of symptoms. Certain techniques can certainly reduce the severity of symptoms and help people learn to be more successful, independent, and high functioning, but there is no cure for autism.
- People with autism will live a limited life.
The sky is the limit when it comes to living with autism. There is no telling what a person will be capable of doing, just like with anyone else. There is no reason to put limits on these children. Instead, they should be encouraged to continually strive to maximize their potential. People with autism can go on to lead very successful lives. They can go to college, hold down a job, date, live independently, and much more. Children who are non-verbal have a wide range of options for communication devices that can help them to express themselves and their needs. Businesses are becoming more accommodating to the needs of those with autism to help them succeed and feel more comfortable.
How You Can Help Break Down the Myths
Whether you have a spouse, child, relative, or friend with ASD, you can be proactive in breaking down these myths and more. Even if you do not know anyone affected, you can help. Educate yourself and become an advocate. If you hear someone sharing something that is untrue, politely correct them and help them to understand the truth. Fight for more resources and supports to help those with ASD live more independent and successful lives. Consider how your own actions, choices, thoughts, and behaviors impact those with special needs and do your part to create a more inclusive and accepting community.
If your child does have autism, provide them with the tools and resources they need to thrive. PediaPlex offers a wide range of services all in one location including ABA therapy, speech and occupational therapy, psychology services, and more. Autism is just one piece of who your child is. Help them to improve their behavior, communication, and social skills and make the most of the world around them. An ASD diagnosis does not have to hold them back. You’ll be amazed at the progress they can make with the right supports and strategies in place. PediaPlex understands your concerns and your needs. We meet your child where they are at and work with them at their own pace to maximize their potential. Contact PediaPlex today to find out how we can help.
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