Myth # 1. Autism is the parents' fault: Theories of what actually causes autism abound these days. Everything from mercury in vaccines to food allergies to genetics are all theories of how autism came about. No one seems to really know why autism exists. One thing I can tell you is that it is NOT the parent's fault. There was a time, not so long ago that doctors blamed the mother for a child being autistic. The doctors believed that an autistic child had “withdrawn inside himself” due to a lack of affection given by the mother. The mothers used to be deemed “Refrigerator Mothers” because it was believed they were cold and un-affectionate. Now, we know that this is just not true! Many scientists think that autism is a genetic problem but even so, no one can seem to find a cure for it.
Myth # 2. Autism is caused by a lack of discipline or spoiling: Lots of unknowing people, mostly passers by and looky-loo's are under the impression that kids with autism are just spoiled brats who scream because they do not get their way. Parents are offered lots of advice about how to discipline and set down rules for their child by people who have no idea what it's like to raise someone who is autistic.
Let me set the record straight. If you are in a department store and see a child screaming and squirming against their parents, please do not assume that this child is being a brat. Autistic kids can have some major sensory issues. Common, everyday sounds can literally cause physical pain to some autistic people. The buzzing and flickering of a fluorescent light can literally drive them insane, and all the distractions and people at a public place like that can scare them because they have no idea what to expect from a stranger. If you want to help, just approach the parent and ask clearly, “I see that you're struggling, what can I do to help you?” You will be most appreciated! There may be nothing you can do, but your kindness will be noted!
Myth # 3. People with Autism are mentally retarded: Some of them are, but not all. Autistic people are usually not just autistic. More often than not, they are autistic and have another issue like ADHD, OCD, Mental Retardation, Dyslexia or sensory issues. Some can not even speak, some are deaf, some are blind, but this is true with all people in general. This in no way means that all autistic people are mentally retarded. A lot of autistic people have average or above average intelligence. It's just that they may have no way to communicate that intelligence sometimes and once they find a way, they are much better and their intelligence is completely evident.
Myth # 4. People with Autism will never contribute to society: While it may be true that an autistic person may need a mentor or some job coach training, the truth is that with a little help, ANY autistic person can find a way to contribute to society.
Myth # 5. All Autistic people are like “Rainman”: Rainman was a really cool character. When I first found out that my son had autism, I watched Rainman again after not having watched it for about 12 years. I had to giggle at the similarities between my son and the character depicted on TV The mannerisms were almost exactly the same! This myth was true in my case, but what most people do not seem to want to understand is that autistic people are each individuals. Autism is not a cookie-cutter diagnosis. That is why they call it a Spectrum Disorder , because there are so many different symptom and each symptom has varying levels of degree.
Myth # 6. Autistic people do not have feelings: I can not speak for all autistic people really because I am not autistic. I know from knowing my son, however, that at least he does have feelings. He feels happy when he is bike riding with me in the evenings and he feels sad after having to leave his grandma and come back home when he takes a trip to go see her. He feels angry when one of his siblings takes a toy away from him and at times he just wants to be alone. I can tell that he definitely has feelings. He also shows affection. He kisses, hugs, and comforts people just like any non-autistic person. Some autistic people do not display emotion much, but it's not a blank statement that is true of ALL autistic people.
Myth # 7. People can outgrow Autism: The treatments for autism are getting better and better everyday. Mostly, the parents of autistic people are the ones working for a cure and not so much the doctors and the scientists. Sometimes it's the autistic people themselves who are working to find a cure. But there is really no true “Cure” for autism that has been officially found. The main treatment treatment for autism looks to be ABA therapy or Applied Behavior Analysis. It's kind of a reward program that gives the autistic person what they want if they have in a certain manner first. I'm not sure how I feel about this therapy. To me, it looks like the therapists are only trying to teach the person with autism how to sit down and shut up, which is not what they need. But there are other treatments out there such as the Son-Rise Program by The Autistic Treatment Center of America that I like. The bottom line is that the symptoms of autism can be diminished, almost to the point of being invisible, but autism is a life-long disorder and people do not grow out of it.
Myth # 8. All autistics are geniuses: Just like in the statement about autistics being mentally retarded, some are geniuses, and some are not. Sometimes you will meet a person who is an Autistic Savant. Lots of autistic people have this trait. This is when the person may be a little slow or seemingly unintelligent in some area but their intelligence and comprehension seem to spike in reference to something that they are very interested in or sometimes this happens with one of their 5 senses. Temple Grandin is an example of this with her vision. She has a 3-D photographic memory and is able to move and shift the pictures around in her mind to look at them from different angles like a computer program. She's been able to do this long before computer programs like that even exhausted! This is not the exception to the rule though, there are many different levels of intelligence in the autistic community.
Myth # 9. Autistic adults will never be able to live on their own: Again, this is not a blank statement for autistics as a whole. Autistic kids will always grow up to be autistic adults, but with proper training and a little bit of help from programs and the community, it is entirely possible for an autistic adult to live on their own. Symptoms of autism are many different levels of degree. Some function almost “normally” and can do most tasks all on their own with little help from anyone else. Some just need help with things like money management and social situations, and some may be so severe that they may always live in a place like a group home with other autistic people. It just depends on the person.
Myth # 10. Autism is a mental illness: Autism is a developmental disability, not a mental illness. There is a difference between mental illness and a developmental disability. A person with a mental illness is usually very competent and able to care for themselves, but sometimes they have flaws, such as depression or moodiness, that varies from rational to irrational. A person with a developmental disability usually has trouble in areas of life, like self-adequacy and self-care and may only function up to a certain age level that may be considered far younger than his or her chronological age. A person with a developmental disability may also have a mental illness in addition to their disability but a person with a mental illness does not need to have a disability. Another difference between the two is that developmental disability is permanent whereas a mental illness is treatable.
I hope this has helped to clear up some of the questions people have about autism. I think that the general public really misunderstands autism but with the rising number of people being diagnosed, it looks like there will be more and more encounters with autistic people in the near future. With this in mind, it is good to try to understand this disability as much as possible.