Since first being recognized as a mental health condition in the mid-twentieth century, autism has remained popularly misunderstood. In the 1950s, the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis took root in the public consciousness, leading many to believe that autism was caused by mothers who neglected to warmly nurture their children. Long since disproved, it leaves in its wake myriad other myths about autism, the continuance of which can lead to adverse outcomes for people with this condition.
Combating this misinformation is important to increasing autism awareness and ensure the kind treatment of people with autism. In this post, we will dispel six common myths about autism and explore the facts surrounding each of these claims.
1. Autism Results In A Lower-Than-Average Life Expectancy.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may have been alarmed by recent studies reporting that people with autism have an average lifespan of 36 years, compared with a 72-year life expectancy for the general population. However, this research does not provide a clear picture of the relationship between ASD and overall health and wellness and remains one of the most disseminated myths about autism.
While autism itself does not impact life expectancy, comorbidities and an increased risk of accidents explain these statistics. Many people with an ASD also have one or more comorbid conditions such as epilepsy, asthma, autoimmune disorders, Fragile X syndrome or gastrointestinal disorders, which can affect their health and longevity. People with autism, particularly children, are also much more likely to be injured in a preventable accident than the general population.
2. Everyone Is At Least A Little Bit Autistic.
Many well-meaning people, such as comedian Jerry Seinfeld, have remarked that they may be on the autism spectrum. They base their statement on a few observed characteristics or behaviors, rather than on a doctor’s diagnosis. Myths about autism like this irk people in the autism community and often mischaracterize the experience of people with an ASD. Just as someone does not have “a little bit of asthma” because they have occasionally experienced shortness of breath, a person is not on the autism spectrum simply because they find eye contact uncomfortable or sometimes engage in repetitive movements.
3. All People With Autism Are Extremely Intelligent Or Gifted In At Least One Area.
Blame this misconception on the movie “Rain Man.” Some people assume that everyone with an ASD has a special talent, such as being a mathematical genius or an incredible artist. While these myths about autism granting someone heightened intelligence or artistic talent have remained prevalent in popular media, the fact is that people with autism have a wide range of skills and abilities, just like everyone else. While an estimated 10 percent of people with an ASD do demonstrate a high level of ability in art, music, math or statistics, most do not possess savant talents or extremely high IQs.
4. Autism Can Be Cured With The Right Diet.
Parents of children with autism are often willing to try almost anything to help their child thrive, including special diets. Some have even claimed that eliminating foods containing certain proteins or carbohydrates, such as casein or gluten, has cured their child’s autism. However, research has found no significant differences between children with autism who followed a special diet and their peers who did not. While a healthy diet is essential for any child’s growth and development, there is no known cure for autism.
5. Autism Is Inherently Negative; There Are No Benefits Associated With Being On The Spectrum.
While people with an ASD face certain challenges, the myths about autism that associate the condition with negative qualities are simply not true as they are also likely to exhibit some of the positive qualities associated with autism. People with an ASD tend to be extremely honest, logical, detailed-oriented and passionate about their interests. They think differently than neurotypical people, and their unique perspectives can be an asset to their family members, friends and colleagues.
6. People With Autism Cannot Get Full-Time Jobs Or Succeed In The Workplace.
For people with an ASD, professional success often depends on finding a position where they can best leverage their strengths. Many people with autism are making significant contributions in a variety of fields including science, engineering, technology and the arts. Check out our post on great career paths for teens with autism for examples of prominent people with an ASD and occupations that may be a great fit for individuals on the spectrum.
If you are the parent or guardian of someone with autism, resources are available to help them achieve their full potential. Lexington Services offers a variety of educational, behavioral and social support services for people with autism and their families. Click here to learn more about our services, or contact us to schedule a tour.
To read more like this, check out our previous blog post.