Myths and Truths About Autism Spectrum Disorders - FamilyEducation

Autism Awareness Month: Debunking the Top Myths About Autism

by Kelly Sundstrom

There's a lot of misinformation about autism spectrum disorders out there. We've gathered the top five myths about autism to help break down fact from fiction.

Autism Awareness

Autism Awareness Month not only benefits children and adults struggling with autism, but also encourages people to have a more compassionate and educated understanding about autism spectrum disorders. Throughout April, do your part in debunking some of the top myths about autism by finding out the truths and realities about the autism spectrum.

Autism Awareness Month Kids on Playground

Photo source: Flickr/Amy Krohn

Myth: Autism Is a Disease

Classifying autism as a disease not only causes confusion, but sometimes promotes misguided ideas about how children and adults with autism should be treated. Not unlike other neurological conditions, like epilepsy or multiple sclerosis, autism occurs as a result of differences how the brain functions. In fact, studies have shown that people who have autism display differences in levels of the neurotransmitter GABA as well as differences in the synthesis of serotonin in the brain. It is not contagious and does not mean that a person with autism is sick. Autism is simply a difference in how the brain interprets and understands the world.

Myth: Autism Always Looks the Same

Autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition. The autism spectrum is just that - a spectrum that encompasses a broad range of traits, characteristics, and functionalities. While one child classified as high functioning may not have a language delay and may display higher-than-average intelligence, another child may experience significant delays or even regressions. Sometimes the autism diagnosis even accompanies a secondary diagnosis, such as ADHD or Down's Syndrome. As the saying goes, once you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.

Myth: Children and Adults with Autism Cannot Empathize or Feel Emotions

Autism Awareness Month Empathetic Girl

Photo source: Flickr/dramaqueennorma

This idea that an individual with autism does not feel empathy is grossly inaccurate. In fact, people on the spectrum not only feel their own emotions, but can also empathize and pick up on the emotions of others even more easily than most. This deeply empathetic ability can cause a child or adult with autism to react to another person's true intentions, rather than their words or actions, and this inconsistency results in an autistic person reacting in ways that can seem confusing to the outside world.

Myth: People with Autism Don't Need Affection

Autism Awareness Month Mom Hugging Son

Photo source: Flickr/wactout81

The sensory integration issues that often accompany autism usually cause someone on the spectrum to avoid touch and eye contact, cringe from a hug, and to become agitated by tags in clothing or the seams at the end of socks. However, many people wrongly think that people with autism do not need affection. Not only is this idea harmful to an autistic person's emotional and psychological growth, it's completely inaccurate. Although many children and adults on the spectrum need help to understand how to give and receive love, they feel the need for affection and attention just as much, of not more, than everyone else.

Myth: People with Autism Can't Make Friends

Although it can sometimes seem difficult for individuals with autism to develop friendships easily, they can absolutely form long-lasting and meaningful connections with people throughout their lives. When an autistic person misunderstands social cues and seems to have out-of-sync communication skills, this might initially inhibit her from making friends quickly. Once a friendship forms, however, people on the spectrum often become the most loyal and devoted friends and partners out there. They often get married, have children of their own, and become regularly engaged in social circles.

Looking for more information about Autism Awareness Month? Trying to find therapies for children with autism? Check out Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Treatment for ASD.