April is Autism Awareness Month. To celebrate we’re featuring posts on this often-misunderstood disorder. In this post, we’re going to bust 14 common autism myths.

By busting myths, we improve understanding. When people have a better understanding of autism, they can be a better support to those who have it. And getting the right autism help can improve outcomes and quality of life in general.

Read on to learn some facts about autism. You might be surprised by what you thought was true and isn’t!

Myth 1: Autism Is a Disease

Autism isn’t a disease. People with autism are not sick, and they are certainly not infectious.

The definition of autism — and more specifically, autism spectrum disorder — is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Autism varies in severity, hence the word “spectrum.”

People with autism have challenges with social interactions and communication. In addition, they experience repetitive or restrictive thoughts and behaviors.

Many adults with autism are working to reframe how society views autism. To them, autism is a natural variation on how the brain works. And this variation can offer many benefits.

photo of a young boy with a book laughing
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Myth 2: People With Autism Don’t Feel Emotions

While people with autism may have trouble communicating their emotions or reading the feelings of others, they do feel emotions. Just as autism is a spectrum, the way people with autism express emotions ranges.

Some people with autism can more freely express happiness, sadness and excitement. On the other hand, others with autism are more restricted in expressing how they feel.

photo of two young girls holding hands on the beach
Photo by Limor Zellermayer on Unsplash

Myth 3: People With Autism Can’t Understand the Emotions of Others

Regardless of how they express it, people with autism can recognize emotions. In fact, most kids with autism can recognize emotions in a comparable way to their peers, according to Pediatric Health, Medicine, and Therapeutics.

Simpler feelings, such as happiness and sadness, are easy for them to label. They may struggle to identify more complex ones, such as fear and surprise.

Unspoken interpersonal communication is more challenging to decipher for people with autism. That means they may not be able to detect sadness based on body language alone. Moreover, they may not be able to detect sarcasm just by the tone of voice.

When communicated more directly, people with autism can not only understand the emotions of others, but they can also feel empathy and compassion.

photo of a mom and her two young sons using an ipad
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Myth 4: Kids With Autism Can’t Form Loving Relationships

The truth is kids with autism can feel emotions, have compassion and form loving relationships with others to the same degree as kids not on the autism spectrum. A comprehensive, relationship-based intervention can play a key role in these bonds.

When first identified in the 1940s, people thought the primary challenge for kids with autism is forming relationships. We now know the challenge is expressing feelings and reading emotional clues from others.

photo of a young man walking alone at sunset
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Myth 5: People With Autism Prefer to Be Alone

Although people with autism have social challenges, that does not mean they would prefer to be alone.

Social development delays are one of the ways kids with autism are diagnosed. They have trouble developing relationships with peers because they experience a delay in the ability to spontaneously share. They also have trouble maintaining eye contact and recognizing the subtle clues in body posture and facial expressions.

Having these challenges, however, does not mean they don’t want to have relationships with their peers. Older kids with autism often express the desire to make and maintain friends. They just need to learn the skills to do it.

photo of a man on his laptop wearing headphones
Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Myth 6: People With Autism Have an Intellectual Disability

While some people with autism have an intellectual disability, not all people with autism do. According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, about 38% of kids with autism also had an intellectual disability.

On the other hand, most people with autism have a normal to high IQ. Moreover, autism can coincide with exceptional abilities, such as excelling in music or math.

photo of an older man painting
Photo by Eddy Klaus on Unsplash

Myth 7: People With Autism Are Geniuses

We can probably point to the movie Rain Man as the originator of this myth. To be clear, while some people with autism may have special abilities, such as in arts and math, the majority do not. In fact, about 10 percent of those with autism have savant abilities.

Compared to one percent not on the spectrum, having savant abilities is more common in people with autism. Researchers still aren’t sure why that’s the case.

photo of two boys running in the park
Photo by Jessica To’oto’o on Unsplash

Myth 8: Kids With Autism Will Grow Out of It

Most children with autism do not grow out of it — they become adults with autism. More specifically, their behaviors will change throughout their lifetime, but they will continue to meet the criteria of their autism diagnosis.

Myth 9: Autism Only Affects the Brain

Autism doesn’t just affect the brain. In fact, it affects several parts of the body.

People with autism are more likely to have epilepsy, an altered immune system and gastrointestinal problems.

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Photo by Melissa Belanger on Unsplash

Myth 10: Specialized Diets Cure Autism

Research has shown that diet doesn’t have a direct effect on autism. It can, however, help with symptoms.

For example, people with autism can have a food allergy or digestive issues. By using a specialized diet, they can relieve the uncomfortable symptoms. This, in turn, improves how they physically feel. For kids with autism, the result is better behavior and less escalated emotions.    

Myth 11: There Is an Autism Epidemic 

According to the Autism Science Foundation, 1 in 68 children in the United States has an autism diagnosis. Compared to the 1980 rate of 1 in 10,000, it can look as if there were an autism epidemic — but this isn’t the case.

Several factors have contributed to the increased number of autism diagnosis. Firstly, legislation passed in the late 1980s and early 1990s that provided people with autism more resources. In turn, awareness of autism spread.

As more parents, pediatricians and educators better understood autism, they were recognizing the signs more often. As a consequence, doctors diagnosed more people with autism.

On top of increased awareness, the criteria for diagnosing autism expanded. With this change, more people now fell into the definition and received the autism diagnosis.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Myth 12: Kids With Autism Always Qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability Benefits 

While kids with autism typically meet the medical eligibility criteria for SSI, they have to still meet the financial eligibility requirement. That means family income and assets determine if kids up to the age of 18 can receive SSI benefits. After age 18, only the child’s income and assets are used to determine financial eligibility.

young adult son with Down syndrome hugged by his parents
Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Myth 13: People With Down Syndrome Can’t Also Have Autism 

In the last 10 years autism has been increasingly recognized in people with Down syndrome. Studies range from five to 48 percent of the two occurring together.

For this reason, screening and surveillance for autism in kids with Down syndrome are critical. By diagnosing autism early, kids can get important early intervention supports.

Myth 14: Vaccines Cause Autism 

Of all the autism myths, the vaccines one is the most dangerous. This myth started with a fraudulent researcher. His deceptive study ended with him losing his medical license.

To be clear, vaccines do not cause autism.

Over the last two decades, research study after research study has shown there is no link between vaccinations and autism. For more information, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics list of research studies debunking the vaccination myth.

image of the Autism Awareness Ribbon

Join Us in Recognizing Autism Awareness Month

Now that we’ve busted common autism myths, you can help us spread awareness. Take some of these myths to your social media followers. Sport the autism awareness ribbon on your clothes or car. Attend an Autism Society event in your community. By getting involved, you can help us improve our society’s understanding of autism.

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