On the agenda is today’s topic: don’t fall for these autism myths. When it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there’s unfortunately no shortage of myths and misconceptions out there.

These myths can be incredibly damaging and lead to misunderstanding and prejudice. A lack of understanding of ASD and the people it affects can sadly result in harmful practices, from exclusion to discrimination to bullying. That’s why it’s so important that we become aware of the reality of what ASD is, so we can create better understanding and facilitate better interactions with individuals living with it.

I’ll be sharing what I think are the top 5 autism myths. We’re gonna burst those bubbles and set the record straight!

I’ve had a very interesting journey when it comes to treating autism. I’ve been working in the autism space with individuals on the spectrum for over 17 years now. I’ve worked across all different types of settings – as a behavior therapist with people who had varying skill levels. And it still amazes me that even though it’s 2024, some of the same misconceptions from back when I started are still circulating. So let’s jump in and tackle them head on!

Myth #1: Autism is a Mental Disorder

I’m sure some of you may have heard this one before. But it’s simply not true. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, not a mental disorder. It can affect the way people:

  • Communicate
  • Interact with others and their environment
  • Process, understand and respond to sensory input and stimulation

ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity of symptoms and degree of impairment can vary significantly from person to person. Some individuals with autism may have difficulty with social interactions or communication, while others may have no trouble at all in those areas.

It’s crucial to remember that autism is neurological in nature. When I worked as a behavior therapist at a school for autistic children, we had students all across the spectrum. Some needed more high-level support, while others were more independent to the point that my colleagues and I would question if they had the correct diagnosis! That’s why it’s so important to understand each individual’s unique capabilities and not group everyone together based on the label of autism.

Myth #2: Autistic People Don’t Show Emotion

This one makes me laugh because it’s so far from the truth! People with autism absolutely can and do show emotion – they just might express it differently. Due to potential difficulties understanding certain social cues and context, their emotions may be displayed in ways that are less common. For example:

An autistic individual may show joy and happiness by jumping up and down and flapping their arms and hands. And that’s totally fine!

We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves, and it’s no different for people on the spectrum. Just because they may not show emotion the same way as neurotypical individuals doesn’t mean they don’t feel or express it. Myth busted!

Myth #3: Autistic People Are Not Capable of Learning

Oh boy, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. In my years working across various settings, including autism-specific schools and public school systems, I’ve seen this misconception rear its ugly head time and time again.

As soon as a diagnosis of ASD is established, there often seems to be an automatic assumption about what that person can and cannot do. I’ve heard it from parents, caregivers, you name it. But it’s simply not fair to put those limitations on someone based on a diagnosis.

Having worked with individuals on the spectrum for many years, I’ve seen firsthand the immense potential these kids have. It’s our job to bring that potential out and present things in a way that makes sense for them to process and act on.

Autistic individuals are more than capable of learning and can excel in so many areas that are useful and relevant to them. We’ve all seen the stories of people on the spectrum with exceptional talents in things like:

  • Mathematics
  • Music
  • Creative arts

Yes, some individuals with ASD may have difficulties with certain social skills and communication. But that does NOT mean they can’t learn. As a society, we need to provide them the same opportunities as everyone else, even if those opportunities look a bit different. It makes my blood boil when I hear someone say an autistic person can’t learn.

Myth #4: All People With Autism Are the Same

This one is just silly when you think about it. No two human beings are exactly the same, not even identical twins! They may have similar genetic makeup, but that doesn’t mean their brains and bodies will function identically. The same goes for autism.

While there are common traits and challenges among people with ASD, it’s critical to recognize that it’s a spectrum disorder. Each person will have different challenges and a unique skill set. Some individuals may be very high-functioning and need minimal support, while others may require a lot more assistance.

It just goes to show that no two people on the spectrum are the same. We can’t paint everyone with the same broad brush. Myth busted once again!

Myth #5: Autism is Linked to Poor Parenting

Alright, this last one might hit a nerve for some parents and caregivers out there. But please know that is not at all my intention. I only want to bring awareness to this damaging and outdated myth.

So here’s the truth – autism is absolutely, unequivocally NOT caused by poor parenting. Parents, if you’re raising a child with autism, you are doing an amazing job! I know you probably don’t hear that nearly enough. There’s always something going on, something that could be better or a wrench thrown in the mix. But believe me, you’re doing great!

Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many parents who carry around guilt and shame, thinking they did or didn’t do something that caused their child’s autism. They blame themselves and bear this heavy burden. But the fact is, autism is a neurological disorder, not a result of parenting.

We know ASD affects brain function and how individuals interact with their environment. But it is NOT a mental or psychological disorder. Autism can be caused by a multitude of factors, including:

So parents, I’m speaking to you straight from the heart – please give yourselves some grace. You did nothing wrong. Some things are simply beyond our control. Your child is beautiful and always will be. Your job now is to support them and be the best advocate you can. Surround yourself with a trusted support system and know that this is not your fault.

Let’s put this myth to bed once and for all. Autism is not linked to poor parenting, period.

Whew, that was a lot! I covered a ton of ground and even got a little emotional there. But these are the top 5 autism myths I don’t want people falling for any longer:

  1. Autism is a mental disorder
  2. Autistic people can’t show emotion
  3. Autistic people aren’t capable of learning
  4. All people with autism are the same
  5. Autism is caused by poor parenting

All completely false!

If you have any questions or concerns, please drop them in the comments or book a call!

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