In the article “Prevalence of Parent-Reported Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children in the US”, which appeared in the October 5, 2009 issue of Pediatrics, researchers have confirmed that the autism prevalence rate in the U.S. has gone from 1 in 150 children to approximately 1 in 100 children. Despite this increased incidence rate, age-old myths about autism continue to prevail. Parents of children on the autism spectrum, autistic individuals themselves, and professionals that work in autism-related specialties are all working to dispel common autism myths.
Unfortunately, many of these myths, some even decades old, persist. When a parent of a child that has been recently diagnosed with autism tells a friend of her child’s diagnosis, she may find herself face-to-face with one of these myths. It is important that those in the autism community actively work to dispel these myths on a daily basis.
In the 1950s, the phrase “refrigerator mothers” was used to describe mothers of children with autism. It was thought that their cold and emotionless demeanor was the reason for their child’s behavior. Unfortunately, not much was known about autism during this time and the disorder wasn’t even a unique diagnostic condition in the DSM.
Thankfully, research has revealed that a mother’s parenting style was not to blame for her child’s autistic behavior. Unfortunately, for many mothers, this revelation came too late and only after much self-blame.
Autism and Intelligence Levels
Another frequently referenced myth about individuals with autism is that they all experience cognitive deficits. However, there is not a consistent relationship between autism and intelligence levels. While a portion of individuals on the autism spectrum may have some level of cognitive disability (also called mental retardation), it is not true of all individuals on the spectrum.
Not only do intelligence levels vary among individuals on the autism spectrum, a person’s intelligence level is not included in the autism diagnostic criteria. So while some individuals with autism may also have a cognitive disability, this is not a statement that can be attributed to the entire autistic population.
Individuals with Autism Lack Empathy
The stereotypical individual with autism is an uncaring and unfeeling person that has no capability of feeling empathy. Just as in the typical population, there are some individuals who have problems with empathy and others who are able to be genuinely empathetic.
Not everyone on the autism spectrum can show feelings of empathy but this is also the case for individuals not on the autism spectrum. Many autistic individuals are fully capable of showing empathy but may do so in a way that is unexpected to the unknowing bystander.
Everyone with Autism is Nonverbal
Surprisingly enough, not everyone with autism is non-verbal. Language skills vary, even among the most severely affected. While some individuals with autism are completely nonverbal, others are able to take advantage of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices to communicate with others.
This list of common autism myths is by no means comprehensive; however, these are some of the more popular myths. As the autism prevalence rates continue to rise, it is important for society to begin to understand the condition better and work at dispelling these common autism myths. Here’s a video that challenges the myths about autism.