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Twenty Commonly Held Myths About Autism

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1) Adults with autism get the support they need.

Many adults who have autism and their families do not receive the help they need. A 2012 survey found that 28% of adults with autism still lived with their parents and that 61% of adults had never had an assessment of their needs carried out by their local authority.

2) Autism is something that can be turned on and off and is grown out of eventually.

Autism is a lifelong condition. Just like hair or eye colour it is part of who the person is and does not only effect children. With the correct help and support autism may become easier to manage as the person gets older but it is still there and they may still struggle with some aspects of life.

3) All police and other emergency service staff are aware of the difficulties caused by autism and how to adapt their work accordingly.

Autism specific training is not routinely provided to the emergency service or other agencies. This can lead to difficulties with the police and other authorities misunderstanding and misinterpreting behaviours associated with autism. For examples meltdowns may be interpreted as aggressive or even violent behaviour towards others.

4) People with autism do not understand humour or jokes.

Autism can cause someone to have a very literal and logical way of thinking and understanding the world. This can lead to confusion or misunderstanding of the meaning of some jokes and humour. Idioms, sarcasm and puns can also prove difficult for those with autism. However this does not apply to everyone and an understanding of these aspects of language may develop over time.

Some individuals who have autism may struggle to understand certain types of humour.

Some individuals who have autism may struggle to understand certain types of humour.

5) It is easy to see that someone has autism or a related condition.

Autism is a hidden disability which means that people who have the condition do not look any different to anyone else. This can make life more difficult as many people will not realise or believe that they have a disability. Autism also can affect people in a huge range of ways and result in an even larger variety of behaviours and reactions. This fact can again mean that people do not realise a person has autism because their behaviour is different to others they know who also have the condition or does not fit in with how they believe autism is.

6) All people with autism are good with numbers or are skilled in art, music or technology.

Not all people with autism have a special skill though due to the fact that they can become intensely interested in or fascinated with a particular subject they may focus on that exclusively and gain a lot of knowledge. This can be true even of very young children. People can often take this to mean that the child is very intelligent and will have this level of knowledge in all things, which is rarely the case. It can also make it harder for some people to understand why a person struggles so much in other areas. These special interests can also provide a person with structure and predictability in an ever changing world.

7) All people with autism enjoy and need routines and for their day to day life to remain unchanged and repetitive.

Although many people with autism do prefer or need set routines in life, not all do. Routines can provide a feeling of security and control in a world that to someone with autism can feel chaotic and scary. Knowing what will happen at any given time can also help with transitions and planning. Some people find that ridged routines feel too restrictive so may be less inclined to use them or may have a looser, more flexible approach as long as they know what may happen.

8) If children who have autism are supported well and correctly at school, they will be able to adapt and cope fine with adult life.

Autism can mean that people do not cope well with big changes, such as leaving school or that they are less able to understand what these will mean for them. Many people will still require a great deal of support when they leave school and perhaps throughout their adult life. Despite this fact the support that is available for adults can be greatly reduced compared to what someone may have had as a child. This can lead to the transition feeling even more overwhelming and difficult.

9) All people who have autism are geniuses like Raymond in the film Rain Man.

Although the films character did have autism he was what is known as an autistic savant. A savant is a person who has an extraordinary skill in one area and they do not always have autism. In the same way not everyone who has autism is a savant. It is thought that only 2 in 100 individuals with autism are in fact savants.

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10) People with autism are unable to form or maintain meaningful friendships.

Autism can make it more difficult for someone to communicate with other people and lead to difficulties in forming friendships and relationships. With support and understanding of the people around them they are still able to have friends and having autism does not necessarily mean that a person will not go on to have happy relationships, get married and have children. Many people who have autism are perfectly happy with their own company and chose to not make friends, too only have a small number of friends or only socialise within their close family. Well-meaning people can feel that this means the person cannot make friends when in fact they may be perfectly happy this way and not have the same desire to form social connection that others do.

11) Individuals with autism do not feel or understand emotions.

People with autism feel emotions just the same as everyone else but may not understand them as well. They may also express emotion differently or not show any outward expression at all even though they are feeling them inside. Many people believe that autism can cause people to feel their own and other people emotions intensely and that this can feel unpleasant and very overwhelming, leading to further difficulties and a wish to avoid further occurrences. Helping children and adults to recognise, name and understand their emotions can be of great benefit to them.

12) Autism only affects children.

Autism is a lifelong condition. Many people do not receive a diagnosis until they are adults but this does not mean that the autism was not always there. Some people can be very good at masking their difficulties or problems they have maybe attributed to other factors. An diagnosis of autism can be made at any age as long as the person fits the correct criteria.

13) Having autism means that someone will need constant care and never live and independent life.

The effect that autism has on someone and their life can vary greatly depending on what difficulties they have and the support they receive. In many cases people have gone through childhood and even a lot of adulthood without receiving a diagnosis or any support at all. Although some people who have autism will require a high level of supervision, help and support throughout life there are still options for them such as assisted/supported living arrangements, residential placements and outreach workers. Other individuals may live with minimal support or support in certain areas or with no help at all.

14) Autism only affects boys.

Although it seems that autism affects many more males than females, it has been found that girls tend to present different symptoms than boys or show them in different ways. This can lead to autism being missed in girls because people and professionals may only be familiar with more commonly known traits and presentation of these.

15) All children who have autism will need to go to specialist schools.

Some children with autism do require the specialist support of a special needs or autism specific school but others are able to do well in mainstream schools with additional support and understanding of the staff. Some parents may decide not to send their children to school at all and prefer to home school them so that they can tailor their education to them and avoid many of the difficulties that children with autism may have at school such as with transitions, noise, change and constantly being around so many other people.

16) Repetitive behaviours such as rocking, hand flapping or spinning should be stopped.

These behaviours are known as stimming (or self-stimulatory) behaviours and can help a person with autism cope with their environment, emotions or stresses. They can be an aid to communication and understanding for others as they may show happiness, excitement or upset for example. Stimming can help to regulate sensory information around the person and so help them to feel more comfortable. Stimming can be used to increase nervous system arousal and the release of beta-endorphins creating a pleasant feeling or as a method of self-soothing in an environment that feels overwhelming. Common Stimming behaviours include hand flapping, licking, smelling objects, spinning, clicking or clapping hands, rocking and making sounds.

Christmas can be a very stressful time for people who have autism.

Christmas can be a very stressful time for people who have autism.

17) Children who have autism love Christmas as much as any other child.

Christmas and other celebrations can be a huge source of stress for anyone who has autism. The disruption of normal routine can cause a rise in anxiety and distress. Children may not enjoy the anticipation of opening their presents because not knowing what is inside may cause them to feel anxious. The extra activity, noise and decorations of Christmas may also be a source of over stimulation for some children.

18) If someone has autism and is non-verbal they must be mentally impaired.

Just because someone does not speak does not mean that they are any less intelligent than someone who does. They may just be more comfortable with other methods of communication such as sign language or symbols. They may also not be able to speak due to other medical issues.

19) Aspergers syndrome is not real autism.

Although those with aspergers syndrome may not appear as serious or severe as autism it is still a lifelong disabling condition that can have profound effects on the person concerned and their families. Aspergers syndrome is part of the Autism spectrum of conditions and has its own set of diagnostic criteria.

20) Autism is a mental health condition.

Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition. Autism can co-exist with many other medical conditions such as ADHD, Downs Syndrome, epilepsy, learning difficulties, dyslexia, anxiety, depression or bi-polar disorder.

© 2013 Claire


Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on November 24, 2015:

Thank you.

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on November 22, 2015:

Fantastic article. You really hit the nail on the head.

Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on July 09, 2013:

Yeah I agree with you. There is a very one dimensional view of Autism/Aspergers portrayed in the press only people who know and live with the reality can change that.

Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on July 09, 2013:

Thank you for your kind comment. Both myself and my two sons have autism/aspergers and over the years it seems I am meeting more and more families who have children with the conditions, so as Heather said chances are you will meet an individual with autism. Yet there are still so many myths and lack of information out there for the general public. I feel, the more we can get the information and truth out there the better for our children as they grow up.

Mary Kelly Godley from Ireland on July 08, 2013:

Spot on. Voted up and shared on my FB.

Leanne Mifsud from Mackay Qld Australia on July 08, 2013:

This is Gold. I wish I had of read this when my child was first diagnosed.

HeatherH104 from USA on July 08, 2013:

This hub contains such important and useful information. It's likely everyone is going to encounter at least one individual with autism and it's important to know all of the things you listed.

Voted up and shared.

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