There is a wealth of information scattered across the internet about Autism Spectrum Disorder that can be considered quite enlightening. However, amidst this sea of knowledge, there are also many misconceptions that can cloud our understanding. Thus, it is paramount to thoroughly check the facts before forming opinions. The intention behind this list of 10 myths about autism is not only to dispel these misunderstandings but to also ignite a flame of awareness about autism.
Myth 1 - Autism is a disease
Autism is actually not an illness or a disease, but rather a unique neurodevelopmental condition known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. It can impact a person's ability to engage in communication and interaction. What causes autism is a combination of various genetic factors and environmental influences. It's crucial to keep in mind that individuals with autism are not affected by something negative; instead, autism is an inherent and meaningful aspect of who they are.
Myth 2 - Autism is curable
Regrettably, autism is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured by medication. Nevertheless, individuals with autism can still experience independence and fulfillment when provided with the appropriate support, therapies, and education. While there may not be a cure, there are medications that can help in managing the gastrointestinal and behavioral difficulties often associated with autism.
Myth 3 - Special diets can cure autism
Contrary to what many people may think, special diets don't have the power to cure autism. However, it is true that individuals with autism may sometimes face challenges with their digestion, just like everyone else. But it's important to note that there isn't a direct link between diet and autism. Nevertheless, special diets could potentially help alleviate these digestive issues or address any food allergies that are often found alongside autism.
Myth 4 - Individuals with autism are geniuses/intellectually deficient
Autism is actually a spectrum disorder, so it's important to understand that it affects each individual differently. It wouldn't be fair to lump all people with autism as either geniuses or intellectually deficient since everyone's experiences and abilities are truly one-of-a-kind. Some individuals might have average intellectual functioning, while others might have exceptional talents in fields like mathematics or art.
Myth 5 - Individuals with autism don't want to make friends
Autism has an impact on how individuals engage in social interactions, but it doesn't mean they don't want to connect with others. People with autism might come across as a bit distant, but it's important to remember that it's because they struggle with social skills rather than having no interest or emotions.
Myth 6 - Children with autism can't learn
The idea that children with autism cannot learn is simply not true. It is crucial for us to educate ourselves about their unique needs and find the most appropriate approaches to support their education. With the right methods, therapies, and an outpouring of love, they have the potential to flourish and gain knowledge.
Myth 7 - Bad parenting causes autism
It's really important to consider that the theory blaming parenting for causing autism is completely outdated and inaccurate. Back in the 1950s, there was a discredited theory called the "refrigerator-mother hypothesis" that unfairly put the blame on emotionally fragile mothers. But now, with all the advancements made, we've come to realize that this theory simply has no basis in reality.
Myth 8 - Vaccines cause autism
It's interesting to note that there is still a lingering belief in some circles that vaccines are connected to autism, even though this idea has been widely discredited. Reputable institutes like the Institute of Medicine have conducted thorough investigations and have found no credible evidence to support this claim. In fact, the researcher responsible for initially spreading this theory had his license revoked due to misleading studies.
Myth 9 - Recently, there has been an autism epidemic in society
The prevalence of autism has actually seen an increase over time, with approximately 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, it's important to note that this rise does not necessarily mean we are facing an "autism epidemic." The truth is that greater awareness, thanks in part to legislation that has provided valuable resources and educational tools, has enabled more parents, pediatricians, and educators to better identify and comprehend the signs of autism. Furthermore, the definition of autism has evolved to include a broader range of characteristics, thus contributing to the higher reported prevalence.
Myth 10 - Individuals with autism cannot experience emotions or understand the emotions of others
Please keep in mind that individuals with autism are fully capable of experiencing and understanding emotions, just like anyone else. Autism may affect their ability to express these emotions outwardly, but it does not take away their innate human capacity to feel. It is important to note that individuals with autism often find it challenging to understand nonverbal cues and rely on body language to interpret emotions such as happiness, sadness, or empathy. When interacting with individuals with autism, clear and direct communication is essential. They have the ability to experience a wide range of emotions, although they may express and understand them in their own unique way.
It's really important for us to shed some light on these widespread myths and misconceptions about autism. When we do that, we can create a much more understanding and inclusive society that truly values and embraces the unique experiences and abilities of people with autism.
Degree in Occupational Therapy, Escola Superior de Saúde - P.Porto. Post-graduate in Sensory Integration, Escola Superior de Saúde do Alcoitão
She is passionate about working in the field of pediatrics, more specifically in the areas of developmental delay and special education. What drives her is being able to give more learning opportunities to children with developmental difficulties, working every day to support parents, guardians and fellow therapists.