Special Needs

Common Autism Misconceptions We Need to Debunk

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I’m the mom of a kiddo with developmental delays. We’ve been through the diagnostic process for autism spectrum disorders — twice, actually. Even without a technical diagnosis for my child, I can relate to other parents with children on the spectrum. We’ve used many of the same autism resources and therapies as autism families do through the years.

As a former preschool teacher, I’ve also taught kids on the spectrum or who were going through the diagnostic process. I’ve seen parents fight for their kids. I’ve seen firsthand how challenging it can all be.

With all that being said, my child is amazing. He totally sees the world in a different way. He does things differently than other kids. More importantly, he’s just him.

As I’ve become engrossed in the world of neurodivergence, I’ve also been introduced to lots of misconceptions about autism spectrum disorders. For this post, I wanted to take some time to address a few autism misconceptions that I think are extremely important for autism awareness, acceptance, and advocacy.

autism acceptance

Photo by Polina Kovaleva

*This post was originally written on April 22, 2017, and has been updated to its original version on May 20, 2022.

Common Autism Misconceptions Everyone Should Know

What’s a misconception about autism, exactly? Autism myths and misconceptions are things that people believe about autism spectrum disorder that aren’t completely or at all true. Some of these misconceptions about autism occur because of a lack of understanding. Others happen when false information spreads.

The problem with these public misconceptions is that the millions of people across the world who have autism get painted in a different light than they deserve. For a better world for people with autism, it’s necessary for others to understand their truths.

Here are some of the most prevalent misconceptions of autism:

1. More People Need to Become Aware of Autism

It’s probably safe to say that most people have heard of autism and are at least somewhat aware of what it is. Therefore, autism awareness isn’t necessarily as important as it once was. To be made aware of something means that you didn’t already know about it. Since many people do know about autism, the step we need to take now is acceptance.

For autism to be accepted, it needs to be understood. People with autism shouldn’t have to worry about getting looks from others who view them as different. They shouldn’t need to wonder if their school is going to give them the support system they need to thrive. For this reason, the Autism Society of America has urged people to advocate for acceptance rather than awareness.

2. Autism is a Trendy Diagnosis

It’s true that autism diagnoses have risen in the United States over the past couple of decades. The CDC shows that, in 2000, about 1 in 150 children was diagnosed with autism. In 2018, the number jumped to 1 in 44. The spike in diagnoses has made some people question whether getting diagnosed with autism has simply become “trendy” rather than necessary.

Scientific American explains why diagnoses might have shot up. First, the definition of autism has changed drastically since it was first given in the 1940s. Over time, the diagnostic criteria, known as DSM-5, have evolved into a spectrum of disorders that can capture children and adults who may have previously fallen through the cracks. The current diagnostic criteria also allow children to have other diagnoses, like ADHD, which was once not allowable for an autism diagnosis.

In summary, it’s not autism that’s become trendier. Instead, qualified medical professionals now have the tools they need to diagnose these spectrum disorders more accurately.

3. Parents Cause Their Child’s Autism

There was a time when many people thought that bad parenting caused autism (and there are probably lots of people who still do). However, researchers have since found that autism has genetic implications. One review published in Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology found that both common and rare genetic variants may play a role in autism development. Another study published in 2019 states that inherited genetic factors lead to about 80% of the risk of developing autism.

4. Children Can Outgrow Autism

Some past research has led people to believe that children diagnosed with autism can eventually outgrow their spectrum disorder. The truth is that some symptoms can surely subside or become less prominent as a child gets older. That’s usually because of the extra support children with autism get through therapies, like behavioral intervention and occupational therapy. But, more recent research suggests that there is no “outgrowing” autism.

A study in the Journal of Child Neurology showed only 8% of children in the study recovered from autism symptoms with therapeutic support. However, other problems affecting daily life remained. Lead author Lisa Shulman, M.D. said via Science Daily, “By and large, these children continue to struggle with daily life. Almost all of them still have to contend with language and learning disabilities and a variety of emotional and behavioral problems.”

5. Autism is Only Diagnosed in Children

Autism used to be a disorder largely diagnosed in children only. But, we know that the medical profession has come a long way in understanding autism and how it functions in different people. Now, it’s becoming more common to get diagnosed as an adult. The CDC estimates that 2.21% of adults in the United States have ASD. NHS lists a few signs of autism in adults as social anxiety, difficulty expressing feelings, and difficulty understanding the feelings of others.

Rachael Ferrari, M.D., says in a Cleveland Clinic interview, “When it comes to adults, we have to think about what the DSM criteria are and then how each of them can manifest in adults.” Ferarri also explains that it’s never too late to pursue a diagnosis. “Getting a diagnosis can lead to personal empowerment and an understanding of your strengths versus weaknesses,” she says. “It also opens the door to potential services, supports and communities where you can meet other people who have autism.”

Preventing Misconceptions About Autism Spectrum Disorders

Whether you have autism yourself or you’re the parent, caregiver, teacher, loved one, etc., of a person with ASD, you’re an ideal advocate for people with autism. And, even if you’re not personally connected to someone on the spectrum, you can still be a worthy advocate. Some people who live with ASD cannot advocate for themselves, so it’s up to the village surrounding them (us!) to make sure that happens. For more information about autism and advocacy, check out these amazing resources:

I want to hear from you! Leave me your thoughts, questions, etc. down in the comments below.

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