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The Truth About Autism: Autism Facts and Debunked Myths

Autism Spectrum Disorder
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If you or a loved one has autism, you may want to know more about autism including what causes it, treatments, and support options. In this article, we’ll go over a few myths and truths about autism that make living with this diagnosis easier. 

Autism is defined as “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a disorder that has evolved over time, and affects many Americans today — including children – with the Centers for Disease Control advising that 1 in 59 children are affected in the U.S. In this article, we highlight a few myths and facts about this equal opportunity diagnosis with the goal of helping autistic people and their families live better lives with this disease. 

Myth: Autistic People Don’t Feel Empathy 

The myth that autistic people aren’t able to feel empathy has been prevalent for many years. While autistic people may not exhibit the same social expressions as their non-autistic counterparts, people with ASD do experience empathy. They just aren’t always able to express empathy in a way that neurotypical people can understand. 

Fact: The Cause of Autism Isn’t Exactly Known 

Autism, a condition related to brain development, is still a mystery to many people, and thus there are quite a few ideas behind what causes it. Popular research leans towards the idea that genetics do seem to play a part in the development of autism. There is also widespread speculation around the idea that environmental factors contribute to the development of autism. At this time, there is no concrete answer as to what causes autism to develop. 

Myth: Autistic People Can’t Hold Relationships

Autistic people are often seen as loners and who can’t date or hold long-term friendships. This myth isn’t true. Many autistic people have friendships, are in relationships, and are even raising a family.

However, there are some challenges that can make maintaining healthy and long-lasting relationships difficult. Autistic people commonly deal with issues like social awkwardness, miscommunication, and unexpected meltdowns. Friends, family members, and romantic partners have to take their loved one’s autistic diagnosis into account when it comes to maintaining intimate relationships. 

Fact: More People Are Being Diagnosed Because of Accuracy 

If you look at the autism statistics, they certainly seem to be skyrocketing. There is a good chance that your child may have autism, with a 1 in 59 chance being touted as a statistic by the CDC. 

Some people believe that there is an environmental cause for this, and blame vaccines, diet, and airborne pollutants as contributing factors for the development of autism. While there may be an unexplained increase in the reported cases of autism, much of the increase has to do with the expanded definition of autism, as well as doctors and mental health professionals using more accurate diagnostic tools and assessments. 

For example, Asperger’s syndrome is now considered part of the autism spectrum. Adding in these new reported cases along with other similar diagnosis can make the number of autism cases seem extreme. 

Myth: Autistic People Are Like Rain Man

“Rain Man” is a 1988 movie that made many aware of autism. Dustin Hoffman played an autistic savant character, and over 30 years later, many still associate autism with Hoffman’s character. 

The problem is that this association is outdated — especially when you consider that Kim Peek, the man who Hoffman’s character was based on, may not have even had autism. While the movie is beloved, Hollywood films are not going to give you the best insight into autism. 

Fact: Women Get Autism, Too 

Autism is commonly associated with males, and there is a reason. In the past, men did make up the majority of reported autism cases. However, women have reported cases of autism as well. It’s important that autistic women and of all genders get representation, support, and treatment. 

Myth: Autistic Meltdowns Are Just Temper Tantrums 

One aspect of autism that has become infamous is the meltdown. When an autistic person has sensory overload, their instincts make them “reboot” their mind by screaming, flailing, swatting, and displaying other similar signs to a what’s commonly referred to as a “temper tantrum.” 

For a child with autism, many people may think that the kid is spoiled and trying to get what they want. For an adult, an autism meltdown could cause the loss of friendships and relationships. 

However, while a temper tantrum is a power play, an autistic meltdown is something that is out of the autistic person’s control. While there may be noticeable triggers and signs that an autistic person is pending an over-the-top display of emotion, most of the time, the meltdown is inevitable. 

Fact: Autistic People May Still Use Asperger’s Syndrome to Describe Their Disorder

In 2013, the Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis was dropped out of the DSM, and to many in the autistic community, this was a controversial move. Many people who were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome still use that to describe their symptoms. In reality, with the updated diagnosis in the DSM-5, Asperger’s syndrome is classified as a component of the autism spectrum. 

Myth: All Autistic People Are Good at Math and Science

If you’re autistic, you may have been told you are good at math and are a human calculator. There are some autistic people who have definitely shown that they are good at math. Famous scientists and computer scientists of our time, like Einstein and Bill Gates, may have had mild forms of autism. However, not every person with autism excels at math and science. 

Many autistic people don’t like math and may pursue the arts or another profession instead. While there is truth to the correlation between autism and math, it’s important not to lump every autistic person together and claim they all like math, because this simply isn’t true. 

Fact: There Isn’t a Medication for Autism 

Some of the effects of autism can be treated with therapy, but many believe that there is a prescription medication for autism. This isn’t true. Some medications for depression, ADHD, and other psychiatric disorders may have good effects on a child or an adult with autism, but there is not a specific medication that has been designated specifically for the treatment of (ASD). 

How Does Autism Affect You? 

Having autism affects each person in their own unique way. ASD affects brain development in the areas of social skills, speech, verbal, and non-verbal communication. The symptoms of autism may present individually or as a group. We look forward to learning more with the technological and medical advances in autism that are in the works today. 

Getty photo by Antonio Guillem

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