Busting 10 autism myths
Let’s make sure we speak out and correct anyone who perpetuates these harmful views about autism.
03 DECEMBER 2021 · 09:39 CET
There are an awful lots of Autism myths out there; most are ridiculous, some would actually be quite funny if they weren’t so harmful, but they do seem to somehow persist in the national consciousness.
So, here’s my guide to the top ten Autism myths and how we can bust them:
1. “We’re all ‘on the spectrum’ somewhere” Autism is a neurodiversity, a different way of the brain being wired. You are either Autistic, or not; so no, you can’t be “A little bit Autistic.”
2. “Children can grow out of it.” Autism is a difference hard wired into the brain. It is an integral part of who an Autistic person is and cannot be “grown out of” or “cured”.
There are loads of ‘treatments’ and ‘therapies’ out there, but mostly they seem to be about trying to force an Autistic child to behave like a non-Autistic child; few are of any real value, and many are harmful.
It would be better to focus energy on helping non-Autistic people understand Autistic people better, as well as making the world a place that embraces and appreciates diversity and difference.
3. “Autism is just a ‘boy’ thing.” Girls can be Autistic too. Autistic girls are often better at masking their differences, as well as generally being better at copying or mimicking their non-Autistic peers. This, and the prevalent myth that Autism is a male neurodiversity, has meant that Autistic girls often go unnoticed and unsupported.
4. “All Autistic people are like the film character ‘Rain Man’, right?” Wrong. Some Autistic people have extraordinary talents and abilities, however this isn’t typical. No two people are the same, and that goes for Autistic children and young people too.
5. “Autistic people don’t experience emotions.” Also wrong. Autistic people experience all of the emotions that anyone else does, but may express or respond to them differently.
6. “Vaccines are responsible for Autism.” We don’t fully understand all the reasons why some people are born Autistic and others aren’t, it’s commonly held to be some combination of genetic and environmental factors, but we do know that it’s nothing to do with vaccines. As we’ve explored already, Autism is a neurodiversity that is hard wired into the brain from foetal development, so Autistic people are ‘born’ Autistic not ‘made’ Autistic.
7. “Child ‘A’ has ‘severe Autism’ and Child ‘B’ has ‘mild Autism’.” Terms like ‘mild’ or ‘severe’, ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-functioning’, are not helpful when describing an Autistic child or young person. Each child is different and may have a range of other factors affecting them, for example disabilities or long-term health conditions.
8. “Autistic children cannot show love to their family.” Utter nonsense. Every time my son beams at me, love shining from his eyes, he is communicating the depth of love he has for me. He can’t say the words “I love you” but he shows it with every fibre of his being.
“9. Autism is a result of bad parenting.” (Sigh) This started decades ago with studies that tried to link Autism to parents that were judged to lack parental ‘warmth’. Long discredited and completely untrue. I am constantly in awe of the wonderful, loving, caring and passionate parenting of families of Autistic children. They are the very best.
10. “There is an Autism epidemic.” Oh dear… The ‘evidence’ for this is the seemingly ‘rapid’ change in the statistics around Autism and children. It wasn’t that long ago that these suggested 1 in 100 children were Autistic, that changed to 1 in 68, a more recent study by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland suggests it may be nearer to 1 in 22 (4.5%).
Is this an ‘epidemic’? No. Is it better Autism understanding, awareness, diagnosis etc? Absolutely.
So, let’s leave the myths and conspiracy theories to other topics, there are plenty of options out there to choose from, and let’s make sure we speak out and correct anyone who perpetuates these harmful views. If we don’t, who will?
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.