10 autism myths busted, this World Autism Awareness Day

Did you know that around 1 in 100 people in Australia have autism? While most of us have heard of the neurodevelopmental disability that affects how people communicate and interact, there are still many myths and misconceptions out there.

What better time to bust these myths than on World Autism Awareness Day? Every year on April 2, people around the world celebrate the achievements of autistic adults and children. It’s also the ideal day to tackle some of the misinformation out there – because the more we all understand about autism, the better we can help autistic people lead fulfilling lives.

“Our research shows that 98% of Australians have heard of autism. But only 29% say they know how to support an autistic person and only 4% of autistic people think that others in the community know how to support them,” said David Tonge, Executive Manager of Capacity Building, Amaze.

“If you understand more about autism and autistic people, you can be part of making society more inclusive for autistic people. It’s really easy to make small changes to our behaviour to help create a more inclusive and welcoming world for autistic people.”

Ready to help be part of this change? Let’s bust some myths! Before we do, though, big thanks to our friends at Amaze for sharing this fantastic information with us.

Myth 1: Autism can be cured

There is no cure for autism, just as there is no single known cause. People are born with autism and the condition remains for life. But with the right care, many people with autism and other autism spectrum disorders are able to live relatively normal lives.

Myth 2: Autism is a mental illness

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, not a mental illness. An autistic person’s brain is ‘wired’ differently to a neurotypical person’s brain – affecting how they communicate and interact with the world. That said, autistic people can experience mental health conditions, too.

Myth 3: Autism is more common in boys

Girls are just as likely to be autistic as boys are. Yet, often, girls can go undiagnosed for longer. The reason is that autism can look different in girls and women compared to boys and men. Plus, there are historic gender biases in autism screening and diagnostic tools. For example, a girl may be called ‘shy’ while a boy may be diagnosed as autistic.

Myth 4: Vaccines cause autism

Another myth, busted, thanks to rigorous research from scientists over the past 20 years. For a long time, many people thought the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism (this all stems from one very dubious ‘scientific’ study, which has since been debunked). Unfortunately, some people still believe this today.

Myth 5: Autistic people lack empathy

Because autistic people can find it hard to ‘read’ other people’s body language, they can come across as lacking empathy or feelings for others. But if you communicate your emotions directly (for example, “I’m sad that this happened”) then they are likely to show empathy and compassion. And it’s important to remember they have feelings, too.

Myth 6: Autistic people are anti-social

While autistic people may interact differently, most still enjoy making friends and building long-lasting relationships with others. Some autistic people may lash out or be aggressive when they experience sensory overload – this isn’t them being violent towards others, it’s more about them feeling distressed or frustrated.

Myth 7: Autism equates to genius

Wouldn’t that be nice! But, by and large, autistic people are just like everyone else in the intelligence stakes. They’re certainly not all like the brilliant Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man … rather, only a few will show extraordinary talent, which is known as ‘savant skill’.

Myth 8: Children with autism don’t talk

Every child with autism is unique. While some might have delayed speech – or may not use words at all – many others will be extremely talkative! In fact, some autistic children start talking earlier than most children.

Myth 9: Parents cause autism

Sadly, some people believe that parents are to blame if a child has autism. There is absolutely no link between parenting style and the likelihood of autism. As we’ve noted above, autism is present from birth. That said, parents may naturally (or be guided to) make changes to how they raise a child with autism.

Myth 10: The autism spectrum goes from ‘not very’ to ‘very’

You’ve probably heard of the autism spectrum. But you might not realise that it’s not a linear scale – it doesn’t go from ‘not very autistic’ to ‘very autistic’. Rather, it refers to the diversity of traits of autistic people.

Has this built on your understanding of autism?

We hope this quick myth-busting session has helped build your awareness and understanding of autism. If you’re interested in finding out more, Amaze has some fantastic resources on its website.

Meantime, happy World Autism Awareness Day to all.