8 Common Autism Myths

By: The MOVIA Team

According to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, approximately 1 in 54 children have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Despite the prevalence, there is still a surprising amount of misinformation and misconception surrounding ASD. Below is a list of some common myths and truths about ASD:

Myth 1. Autism is a mental disorder. Truth: Autism is a neurological and developmental disability that begins in early childhood and is lifelong. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5) characterizes autism as, “Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.”  Autism is classified as a spectrum disorder because of the varying levels of signs and symptoms. The DSM-V lists numerous signs, symptoms, and behaviors, under which a person may meet a couple, many, or all of the criteria to receive a diagnosis of autism. The spectrum of traits and characteristics is in part why there can be confusion or hesitation when labeling a person as autistic.

Myth 2. People with autism lack emotion and empathy. Truth: While ASD may cause a person to express or even feel his/her emotions differently, this does not take away from their actual ability to experience such emotions. Many individuals with autism have reported feeling overwhelmingly empathetic and emotional. They may not always know how to share these feelings or express them in typical ways and are therefore often misunderstood to be apathetic or callous.

Myth 3. People on the autism spectrum do not want to make friends. Truth: Individuals with autism face many challenges in communication and social interaction, however, they typically want to make friendships and create bonds despite these obstacles. Their methods may not look outwardly typical or follow social norms, but individuals with autism have the desire to make friends and form personal connections.

Myth 4. Children on the autism spectrum cannot learn. Truth: A diagnosis of autism does not mean the child is unintelligent, or cannot learn, grow, or make progress. ASD manifests differently in each person and their level of intelligence or capacity to learn varies just as it does in those not on the spectrum. Early detection and intervention have proven to greatly increase learning outcomes in children on the spectrum.

Myth 5. Autism is new and is overdiagnosed. Truth: Autism is not a new diagnosis. In 1943 Leo Kanner published the first description of early neurodevelopmental infantile autism (James Harris, 2018) and there is evidence that ASD existed long before this publication. As a result of increased research and awareness autism is not overdiagnosed; it is simply being found earlier in development. Pediatricians now know what to look for and will screen children as early as 12 months for signs and characteristics.

Myth 6. Autism is the result of vaccines, poor parenting, and/or other environmental factors. Truth: There is no known specific cause for Autism Spectrum Disorder. While there continues to be a large population of people that believe vaccines are to blame, an abundance of research has found no direct link between the two. The same applies to bad parenting, poor diet, air pollution, and/or viruses. Scientists have found no specific connection to any of the above.

Myth 7. Autism only occurs in children. Truth: Autism is in fact a lifelong diagnosis that is believed to begin at birth and continue through adulthood. As more research develops and ASD continues to be better understood, many adults are now receiving late-in-life diagnoses. Those recently identified as autistic, report being commonly misdiagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, or were simply labeled as being “different.” Many adults are living with autism including public figures, Daryl Hannah, Dan Aykroyd, Lizzy Clark, Anthony Hopkins, Elon Musk, and Dr. Temple Grandin. 

Myth 8. Autism can be cured. Truth: There is currently no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are, however, numerous therapies, tools, and strategies focused on handling behaviors and lessening some of the symptoms that go along with ASD. Early diagnosis and application of individualized therapies can help young children develop the necessary skills and strategies to improve overall communication skills as well as social integration and other activities of daily living.

It is important to remember that if you know one person with autism, you know only one person with autism. Each individual is unique, having their own strengths and abilities, and they deserve the same respect, acceptance, and understanding that all individuals do. Staying informed and steering away from common stereotypes and myths will help to promote continued awareness and acceptance of the entire autism spectrum community.

Harris, J. (2018, April 18) Leo Kanner and autism: a 75-year perspective. International Review of Psychiatry Vol. 30, 2018, issue 1: Autism spectrum disorder.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th, ed. American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013. DSM-V, appi.books.9780890425596.dsm02 .

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