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Common Misconceptions Surrounding Autism Spectrum Disorders

Dr. Kawthar Hameed Abdullah

Ed.D Educational Psychology & Special Education

Even though autism spectrum disorders are the one of the most common developmental disabilities in the world today, it's still common to encounter people who believe common autism myths. These misconceptions can dramatically affect how people interact with those on the spectrum. When we are talking about autism it is as important to know what is NOT TRUE, as what IS TRUE abo the condition. While autism awareness has greatly grown in Oman and around the world in recent years, we are still a long way from having a society which truly understands autism. While many people have heard the word or even know someone with the condition, many people still cannot explain what autism is or understand the way people with autism think.

As a result, when we do not give people the information they need- often mistruths, rumors and nonsense can fill the vacuum.

Here I want to highlight some common misconception about autism and separate the fact from the fiction:


Myths about Autism:

Myth #1 - Autism Affects Everyone the Same Way

Sometimes, people think they know autism because they know someone on the spectrum. However, the experience of having autism is different for everyone. There is a range of functioning levels, and the disorder is truly a "spectrum." Each person is unique and may have very different aspects of ASD. As autism advocate Stephan Shore famously said, "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism”

Myth #2: Myth: Autism is a Mental health Disorder.

Autism is a neurological disorder. Studies of the people with autism have revealed abnormalities in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels. What is commonly overlooked is that individuals with developmental disabilities are twice as likely to have a co-occurring mental health disorder that also needs treatment or, at times, may render them in need of acute mental health stabilization, while also taking into consideration the developmental disability

Myth #3: Myth: All individuals with Autism Have Mental Disabilities.

Individuals on the autism spectrum are unique, with a wide range of intellectual abilities. Individuals with autism can be harder to test so IQ and abilities can be under- or over-estimated, unless testing is done by an expert in IDD and autism.

Tests designed to include language and interpersonal analyses may misrepresent the intelligence of people with autism, who struggle with social skills. Many individuals on the autism spectrum have earned college and graduate degrees and work in a variety of professions.

On the other hand, it is sometimes mistakenly assumed that an individual with autism has a higher level of understanding than they do, based on their behavior, language skills or high-level of ability in a particular area.

Myth #4: Everyone Who Has a Symptom of Autism Spectrum Disorders Has Autism:

If a person has one or two characteristics of ASD, it does not necessarily mean he has ASD. It is the number and severity of deficits in the areas of social communication and social interaction, as well as restricted repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities that cause concern. That is why it is important to consult with a medical professional who is familiar with diagnosing ASD.

Myth #5: There Are No Dramatic Improvements to Be Made in Individuals with Autism Who Are Suffering or Need Help

Tremendous advances have been made in the field of ASD over the last decade. Granted, there is still no magic pill that “cures” everyone, and that shouldn’t be the goal for all on the spectrum. However, there are cases of children who were diagnosed as clearly having ASD, and who are now considered to be neuro-typical or symptom-free by professionals due to therapies, treatments, and dietary interventions they have received. Some of these cases have been documented in books and in blogs and videos on the Internet.

Recovery means that they have overcome some of the symptoms they had that made it difficult for them to live full and successful lives in a world created for neuro-typicals.

Myth #6: All Individuals with Autism Need to Be Cured or Become Neuro-typical

There are many individuals who have the label of “autism” (or “Asperger’s syndrome”) who are brilliant and functional and clearly don’t need our help. In fact, many of these people are responsible for inventions that make improvements in all our lives or artistic creations that make the world a more enjoyable place to live. This is neuro-diversity at its best.

Myth #7: People with ASD Have No Emotions and Do Not Get Attached to Other People

It is true that many people with ASD show emotions in a different way from neuro-typicals. However, just because a person does not show emotions in the way we are used to seeing them exhibited does not mean that they don’t have feelings.

People with autism are capable of forming attachments with other people, and do so. Some people with autism date, get married, and have children, just as we do. Perhaps they are less expressive than others about their feelings or express them differently, but that does not mean they are not attached to others. Many on the spectrum express the desire to have friends; they just don’t know how to go about making them in the way neuro-typicals do.

Myth #8: People with Autism Are Violent

Some individuals with autism have “meltdowns”—expressions of frustration at themselves or others. It’s important to understand that all behavior is a form of communication, and trying to understand why a person is having a meltdown or participating in self-aggression is important. It could be that they are in pain and don’t have any way of communicating this. They may be in sensory overwhelm, or in the throes of a PTSD flashback. Over time, individuals can learn to self-regulate. However, there is no connection between planned violence and autism.

Asperger’s syndrome itself is not linked to violence—underlying depression or mood disorders, conduct disorders, and paranoia can be.

Myth #9 : People With Autism Have No Sense of Humor.

This may be true for some people with autism, but it is more likely that the individual expresses or shares humor in unique or less obvious ways. Many parents report that their family member may tease, tell jokes, or mimic comedy actions or comedy lines appropriately, anticipating others will be entertained.

Myth #10: People With Autism Can’t Stand To Be Touched.

This can be true for some people who have high sensory sensitivities but many individuals with autism enjoy hugs, light massage, and other forms of touch.

Myth #11 Everyone Who Has ASD Is a Genius

It is true that some people with ASD are geniuses, but not everyone is. Thomas Jefferson, it appears, had characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome, within the range of modern diagnostic criteria. Others such as Beethoven, Isaac Newton, and Einstein have all been mentioned as famous people who could have been diagnosed as on the spectrum. However, for every person with ASD who is a genius, there are many more who appear to be mere mortals like ourselves. What is important is to give opportunities to all individuals to discover any hidden talents, or at least to reach their potential, whatever that may be.

Myth #12 - People With ASD Don't Feel Empathy

The idea that those on the spectrum can't feel empathy is one of the most common myths about autism. In truth, people with ASD do feel empathy, often very deeply. They may simply have a more difficult time reading the non-verbal communication signals and understanding the perspectives of others.

Myth 13#: Autism Can Be Cured.

There is currently no cure for autism spectrum disorders. However, early and intensive behavioral treatment can, in many cases, reduce the severity of symptoms and help individuals develop adaptive skills for daily living, emotion and behavior regulation, and social engagement.

Many people on the autism spectrum resent the idea that they need to be "cured." The concept for neuro-diversity, the idea that autism is part of a natural variation in what it means to be human, reframes the view of autism as something that is "wrong." Instead, it may simply be a difference.

Myth #14 - Bad Parents Are the Cause of Autism

This myth dates back to some of the very earliest case studies of autism by Leo Kanner.

Many concerned parents have asked ‘do parents cause autism?’ People are born with autism, therefore their upbringing cannot cause the condition. A horrible old theory put forward by Leo Kanner, who was actually credited with discovering the condition of autism, tried to place the “blame” for autism on parents. This theory tried to point the finger at either “refrigerator parents” (cold, distant parents) or simply “fussing” over-attentive parents as being somehow responsible for their child’s condition.

This outdated theory has been proven to have no basis in fact and comes from a time where people who were different were seen as something negative in society and something which someone had to take responsibility for. This myth is extremely unaligned with the current advocacy for autism because it adds to the stigma around autism and it can cause unnecessary strife for parents and family members who genuinely strive to understand and assist their child with autism..

In his 1943 paper, which was the first to define the disorder, Kanner blamed the symptoms on neglectful and cold parents. He wrote, "there are very few really warm-hearted fathers and mothers" and characterized the parents as obsessive in trying to document, diagnose, and control their children's conditions. However, in the 1960s, Kanner officially stated that the parents were not at fault, and bad parenting is no longer seen as causing ASD.

Help clearing things up

Part of autism awareness is clearing up myths like these examples. You can give people a more accurate idea of what it's like to have or love someone with autism by sharing this article with friends. The more people know about autism, the easier it will be for people on the spectrum to feel accepted in society.


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