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An elementary school boy sits in front of a computer in his special education school while holding up a page of autographs.



Autism Myths and Truths

Autism Myths and Truths

It can be very challenging for someone without autism to understand what it’s like to be on the spectrum. This can lead to incorrect (even if well-meaning) beliefs and stereotypes about what autism spectrum disorder (autism) truly is. These misconceptions can be stigmatizing, harmful, and even cruel to those on the spectrum. It’s important to share what autism is, as well as what it isn’t. We will explore four common myths and truths about ASD, as this information can only help us all make sure that people on the spectrum get the understanding and support they need and deserve. 

Myth — People with autism are less intelligent than others.

Truth: Autism is not an intellectual disability. It is a neurological disorder that occurs on a very broad spectrum. While people on this spectrum often share some general characteristics, they are all individuals. 

There are people on the autism spectrum with higher than average intelligence, those with lower than average intelligence, and everything in between. Some are able to communicate verbally, and some are not. Some go to college, get jobs, and live independently, while others require various levels of support and care. 

There is a very diverse range of abilities, skills, and communication levels among people on the autism spectrum. Therefore, it is best not to assume that someone with autism is any less intelligent than anyone else. 

In the words of Dr. Stephen Shore, a professor of special education, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” 

This fact sheet created by The National Autism Association is a great resource for learning more about shared characteristics and other facts about autism.

Myth — People with autism don’t feel emotion or form relationships.

Truth: This myth can be particularly hurtful to those on the autism spectrum, and like the others, it is untrue. People with autism are entirely capable of feeling all of the same emotions as anyone else. However, since difficulties in communication and interpretation of social cues are of particular difficulty to those with autism, sometimes it can be challenging for them to express, and for others to perceive their emotions. Although this might impact their ability to socialize effectively, it does not reflect on their willingness or interest in doing so. 

For example, people with autism may be more bluntly honest and straightforward in social settings, not sugarcoating their words in the way that people who are not on the spectrum typically do. This can sometimes inadvertently upset or offend others. Therapy and professional interventions can be very helpful in allowing those with autism to improve their social interactions and communication skills. As long as those without autism are aware and accommodating of their differences, genuine and long-lasting relationships, including marriages, can (and often do) occur among those with autism. 

Myth — All people with autism have a savant skill.

Truth: This major misconception has been egged on by pop culture entertainment, with characters in productions like “Rain Man” and “The Big Bang Theory” exhibiting exceptional mental ability in a specific area, like memory, art, music, or rapid calculation. There actually is something called savant syndrome, and that is not a myth. It is a real thing. However, the myth lies in the assumption that all people with autism have it. 

The fact is that 1 in 10 (only 10%) of people with autism display an advanced level of a particular skill. Autistic people often display very focused and specific interest in a single subject or topic, sometimes to such a degree that excludes anything else. For this reason, they may become quite skilled, or experts in this very specific interest. 

Some people on the spectrum are excellent at art or writing, some are great at math, and some are skilled at sports. However, assuming that all people with autism are geniuses at something is inaccurate and can cause feelings of inadequacy. 

Myth — Autism is becoming an epidemic.

Truth: This myth is also quite common. Many people believe that autism is becoming more and more prevalent, to the point that it should be considered an epidemic. While it is misleading and untrue, this belief is understandable when you consider that the number of people diagnosed with autism has increased over the past few decades. 

However, what this myth does not consider is that the increased diagnoses are a reflection of our understanding of the disorder than an actual increase in individuals who have it. This means that more people who would not have been diagnosed before, are now receiving the diagnoses, support, and care that they need. 

As we learn more about the disorder, we are more readily able to identify it and support it. So, although it seems like more diagnosed cases is a reason for alarm, the opposite is true. It means more people have access to help, support, and understanding that would not have had it before

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