As the awareness of autism increases around us, so does many misconceptions and assumptions of the condition.
Does TV cause autism? Are people with autism aggressive? Are all people with autism geniuses? And of course, the most talked about "issue" at the moment, does vaccines cause autism?
Be it myths about the diagnosis, causes or treatment of autism, most of them stem from the lack of understanding of the condition. According to The National Autistic Society, this lack of understanding makes it difficult for those affected by autism. It can lead to isolation as the condition is not recognised, or worse, abuse and bullying.
Myths about the diagnosis of autism
1. Autism is a mental health disorder
Autism is, in fact, a neurodevelopmental disorder. What this means is that the brain does not develop in a typical way and this in turn affects many areas of development. Although no two individuals with autism are the same, they face challenges in interacting and communicating with other people and have some repetitive or unusual behaviours or interests (Raising Children Network, 2014).
2. Autism is a male condition
This is a popular misconception. Autism affects both the male and female. However, autism is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189) (Christensen et al., 2016).
Myths about the causes of autism
1. Autism is caused by vaccines
Although the exact cause of autism is still yet unknown, research has indicated that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism, contrary to popular belief. A study conducted by DeStefano, Price and Weintraub (2013) looked at the number of antigens (substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies) from vaccines during the first two years of life. This study found no association between exposure to antigens from vaccines during infancy.
2. Autism is caused by bad parenting
Have you ever heard of the term "refrigerator mothers"? There has been claims that autism is caused by cold, unemotional and inadequate parenting. This was supported by the theory that some of the characteristics of autism such as inflexibility to change and rigidity were assumed to be children showing hostility towards their parents because parents were failing to meet children’s emotional needs. However, there are no evidence at all supporting this claim (Raising Children Network, 2014). As mentioned before, there is currently no known exact cause of autism.
You can check out our video explaining these myths below:
Myths about the behaviours of autism
1. All individuals with autism have savant abilities.
The truth is, only 10% of the autism population are savants. This means that they display outstanding skills that are clearly above their general ability level. For example, being able to remember numbers or catalogues of facts (Raising Children Network, 2014). Take Clarence Kang for example, who is a Malaysian-born extraordinarily talented pianist. Not only is he capable of reading difficult piano scores, but he has also composed his own music and done several transcriptions to original pieces.
2. All individuals with autism are aggressive
You may have heard that some individuals with autism may have self-injurious behaviours like hitting their own head or being aggressive to other people, like hitting and biting. While they may do this, it is not because of their autism. The main reason why individuals with autism, or anyone in general, may display aggressive behaviour, is due to lack of communication. In fact, it is very rare for an individual with autism to act violently simply out of malice.
Myths about the treatment of autism
1. Autism can be cured.
There is no known cure for autism at the present. However, this does not mean that nothing can be done for an individual affected by autism. Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is currently the only evidence-based treatment for autism. There have been over 1000 scientific and peer-reviewed journal articles which have shown successful outcomes for treating children with autism. It develops communicative speech and improved social relatedness in 90% of those treated. This program produces virtually normal social interaction, communicative and cognitive abilities in 40% to 50% of children with autism.
You can check out more of our "Myth Or Not?" videos on our YouTube channel.
- Autism facts and history (n.d.). The National Autistic Society. Retrieved from http://www.autism.org.uk/007874
- Christensen, D.L., Baio, J, Braun, K.V., et al. (2016). Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2012. MMWR Surveillance Summary, 65(3), 1–23.
- Common myths about autism spectrum disorder (n.d.). Raising Children Network. Retrieved from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_myths.html
- DeStefano, F., Price, C.S., Weintraub, E.S. (2013). Increasing Exposure to Antibody-Stimulating Proteins and Polysaccharides in Vaccines Is Not Associated with Risk of Autism. The Journal of Pediatrics, 163(2).