There are all sorts of ideas, myths, and misconceptions about autism. Many are based on out of date research, some are the result of miscommunications, and for some it’s really unclear where they originated.
The following are all statements we have had people query at the One Stop Shop Aberdeen over the last two years, and ones you may have heard yourself.
Let’s bust some myths!
Autism is a Kind of Brain Damage
Autism is most definitely not a form of brain damage. Autistic people have brains which are built in a fundamentally different way, but they are not damaged by autism.
Many autistic people achieve great things with their autistic brains. While this was a common belief in the 80s, we now know this is not the case.
Everyone is a Little Autistic
Afraid not. You either are autistic or you are not. What everyone will have is autistic traits but having lots of autistic traits does not make you autistic – those traits could be there for a whole number of different reasons, not autism related at all.
Autism is about how the brain is put together and how you think, differences in how we process sensory information, not a deep love of trains. Saying you are a little autistic because you are a bit geeky is like saying you’re a little pregnant because you have swollen ankles or a food craving.
If you do suspect you are autistic, talk with autistic people, read about their experiences, and see how they relate to yours. Think about whether your traits have been there your whole life, or just adulthood. The false belief that everyone is a little autistic belittles the lived experiences of autistic people.
Understand that autistic people are built differently and acknowledge autistic life experiences do differ. Autistic people and non autistic people have lots of common ground, but how we work is not the same.
Autistic People do not have Empathy
Many autistic people do. Lots of it. In some cases, much more than non autistic people. What some autists might do is show that empathy in a different way, or take a bit longer for the empathy to click in.
Many autistic people are perfectly able to show support to their friends when they are going through a hard time. Some autistic people are known to cry when their friends are crying – and not from the noise of it, but because they experience the pain their friend feels. Some autistic people get more upset than their friends when the friend has fallen over because they know how painful it can be. Others get very excited purely because their friend is excited.
There are lots of charities which run peer support groups for autistic people as autists can be very good at supporting each other, which they can only do because they have empathy. It also means autistic people can understand the emotional side of books, TV shows, movies – if it’s emotional, autists can feel it. Autistic people just might show it differently.
Autistic People have a Learning Disability
Most do not. Historical research showed that most autistic people had a learning disability but this was because many autistic people went undiagnosed. It is currently thought that about two thirds of autistic people do not have a learning disability. Many in the autistic community believe that as we get better at identifying autism, the percentage of autists without a learning disability will increase.
Many autistic people, learning disability or not, have learning differences - perfectly capable of learning, but may do it in a slightly different way. Some autists love to learn through song, or YouTube videos, some through stories. All autistic people should have opportunities to grow, learn and develop skills.
All Autistic People have Special Skills
Many autists would love a special skill! While a tiny percentage of autistic people are savants and can produce incredible artwork or mathematical skills beyond compare, the fact is most are not. Most are regular people.
Most have an uneven educational profile – it can take a long time to develop some skills, but pick others up very quickly. Many autistic people do have better memory recall than non autistic people, but not all.
Asperger’s is Mild Autism
First off – no autism is mild autism. You might experience someone’s autism mildly, but they probably do not!
In most geographical areas, Asperger’s is no longer a separate diagnosis from autism, someone with Asperger’s is on the autism spectrum. It means that those who would have received an Asperger’s diagnosis have the same sorts of experiences every other autistic person has, only it is less likely their language development was delayed.
People with Asperger’s have the same kinds of sensory and communication differences all other autistic people do, but some of them are better at hiding those and blending in. This is not easy, and it can be disastrous for their mental health. Those with an Asperger’s diagnosis need support and acceptance just the same as their other autistic peers.
Also, how much support autistic people need can change from day to day. When highly stressed, sensory issues can be exaggerated and communication can be harder, but when we are more chilled out, we can generally cope with sensory input a bit better and communicate more easily.
Autism is Caused by Vaccines
This is just not true. The original study which wrongly concluded this has been disproven and wide meta studies (where data from lots of different studies all over the world is gathered) have consistently shown that autism is not now, and has never been, caused by vaccines.
The cause of autism is thought to be largely genetic, and we know that autism does tend to run in families. If you know someone who is autistic there is a chance that one or more of their relatives may be autistic too, but they may not know it. Autistic people are born autistic – it’s not something that they develop or catch from anyone or anything else.
Autism can be Cured
It cannot. Autism will never go away, and the autistic person will not grow out of it. Nobody “recovers” from autism. What they will do is develop strategies and skills, and it is not a “bad” thing to be autistic.
We should not be looking to do anything that tries to cure autism or get rid of it. We should not be forcing an autistic person to make eye contact, touch textures they dislike, or stopping them from engaging with special interests.
We cannot make autistic people less autistic and trying to do so will not work. Instead, focus on supporting autists to learn and develop, and accept that we are built differently. Work with our differences rather than against them.
Autistic People are Anti Social
Not all autists – many are extroverted lives of the party. Many love being sociable, love their friends, love chatting, playing together and just being together generally.
Autistic people can get tired out from socialising more quickly than non autistic people, and it takes more effort, especially if they are masking their autism in a bid to blend in. Do not assume that autistic people prefer to be alone. Sometimes we might, but sometimes we will love or even need some company. Some autistic people need more alone time than others to recover energy after socialising, but that does not make us anti social.
Autism is a boy’s condition
While there are no absolute statistics on the ratio between the number of autistic men and autistic women, we can confidently say that women can be autistic too.
Often, though not always, autistic women present in a different way to autistic men, and tend to mask their autistic traits more. Some professionals are reporting that they are diagnosing equal rates of men and women, some are still showing more autistic men being diagnosed.
Autism is a Childhood Condition
Autistic people are born autistic and remain so throughout our lives. You do not stop being autistic after you reach a certain age, you don’t grow out of sensory sensitivities or meltdowns or shutdowns.
Autistic people may develop differently from peers, but we do develop and mature.
You Can Tell if Someone is Autistic by Looking at Them
Autism does not have a look.
There are autistic people in all walks of life, in different professions, different ages, genders, ethnicities, religions. While there is often talk about the barriers between the autistic community and parents and professionals, it should be noted that many autistic people are often parents, professionals, they can be married, divorced, and may have any of the life experiences non autistic people have.
If we could tell someone was autistic by looking at them we would not have as many late diagnosed adults.