Myth: “Autism is a disease”
Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder– a disorder in brain function, affecting one’s emotions, communication, learning ability, and self-control. It doesn’t “spread” like a disease. It develops as an individual grows. The whole concept of disease/illness cannot be applied here. Autism is treated to help support emotional growth and communication, and is not “cured”.
Myth: “Everybody with autism is either non-verbal or savant.”
The more extreme (and especially rare) cases of people with autism are popularized, leading people to believe that ALL people with autism have either extraordinary skills or poor levels of understanding.
Though Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are characterized by unique patterns in social interaction and repetitive/restricted patterns in behavior; it is important to note that these characteristics vary in terms of severity and impact. For example, speech impairments can range from deficits in understanding to complete lack of speech. Several adults diagnosed with ASDs can live independently, while others can’t. The savant skill is a condition wherein a person with autism has an exceptional mental ability. However, this condition is rare and its degree varies as well. People with autism who show a particular interest or exhibit a particular skill set are often confused for having the savant skill, which need not be the case.
Myth: “Vaccines cause autism.”
This myth started with a research paper published in the 1990s, that linked vaccines with ASDs. However, the research paper wasn’t credible at all, and the medical professional had his license taken away. The myth has still stuck around to this day and contributes to the number of anti-vaxxers. A vaccine has no relation to autism; it only boosts your immunity and resistance against particular diseases.
Myth: “The number of people with autism has increased/ There is an autism epidemic going on”
Around 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. This number is significantly higher than it was two decades ago. The only reason for this is that the awareness of ASDs began to increase in the 1980s-1990s. With this increase in awareness, more people were able to identify the signs of autism. Hence, more individuals got diagnosed. Apart from this, the definition of the word, ‘autism’ was expanded to be more inclusive of the variety of unique cases falling under the autism spectrum.
Myth: “People with autism are treated so that they can ‘resemble neurotypical people’ ”
Autism is a lifelong disorder. Methods that heavily intervene in a child’s life at an early age to “make” them neurotypical(like a few cases of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which requires being under supervision for 20+ hours per week.), tend to affect the child’s mental health negatively. Convincing a child that they need to be ‘fixed’ can lead to trauma and life-long anxiety. As Barry Pratz said, this mindset and these methods ‘treat the person as a problem to be solved rather than an individual to be understood’. Instead, allowing the person with autism to be in a comfortable environment, and understanding the reason behind any particular speech/behavioral pattern of theirs can help them remain safe.
Myth: “Autism is a case of over-diagnosis.”
Several researchers also argue that changing the criteria for autism and making it more inclusive, has led to an over-diagnosis of the condition.
Rather than it being a case of over-diagnosis, milder symptoms that are associated with behavioral challenges are being recognized and accepted under the autism spectrum. This helps to prevent further serious ailments that could occur as a result.
Myth: “Autism itself is a myth.”
In Lorna Wing’s concept behind the autism spectrum, she mentions that the autism spectrum “shades imperceptibly into eccentric normality“. This implies, that behavioral habits exhibited by people with autism are also exhibited by people without autism.
‘While people with autism self-stimulate, neurotypical people fidget. While people with autism have certain things they are sensitive to, neurotypical people have dislikes and preferences.’
While there may not be a well-defined line around the criteria for being included in the autism spectrum, there most certainly is a difference between neurotypical individuals and individuals with autism.
People with autism are diagnosed with ASDs. The core features of ASDs are trouble with social communication and inflexible repetitive behavior. Neurotypical people are not diagnosed with ASDs, or their symptoms do not fall under the category of the autism spectrum.
The similarities between people with autism and neurotypical people aren’t enough to debunk a disorder that affects all aspects of life for those who are diagnosed with it. Especially now that more people are aware of ASDs, people with mild symptoms are also diagnosed with autism.
As put rightly by Steve Silberman, “It wasn’t long ago that someone who spoke to his or her friends by typing on a keyboard was considered severely handicapped. Now they’re just a teenager.