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15 Autism Myths People Affected by It Want to See Busted

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Many myths and misconceptions surround autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because autism displays itself in such a variety of ways, many people may find it difficult to understand what’s true about the condition and what’s just a false perception.

We asked our readers and contributing writers affected by autism to share one myth about ASD they’d like to see busted once and for all.

This is what they had to say:

1. People with autism lack empathy. 

“If anything, my son is more in tune with others’ emotions; he just doesn’t have the skills to show or talk about empathy, but he feels for others very deeply.” — Irene Spencer

“While many of us are indeed lacking in the social skills required to read and name other’s feelings, this doesn’t mean we can’t feel and relate to others’ pain. In fact, some of us are so in tune that we become easily overwhelmed by the emotions and moods of others.” — Sara LeeAnn Pryde told The Mighty in an email.

2. If a person with autism is verbal, they’re “high-functioning.”

“The amount of language an individual on the spectrum has is not indicative of the severity of his/her autism or the extent autism impairs him/her in everyday life.” — Mandy May

“There is not necessarily a correlation between one’s ability to speak and their ability to think. Ask any politician.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

3. People with autism don’t understand humor.

“My high-functioning son has a wicked sense of humor and a love of irony! My severe, nonverbal son has a huge love of slapstick humor and trickery games.” — Autism. From a dad’s eye view

“I think puns are literally hilarious. See what I just did there?” — Sara LeeAnn Pryde told The Mighty in an email.

4. Autism has a distinct “look” and it manifests itself in obvious ways.

“No, people, every child having a nuclear meltdown in public, playing by themselves at the park or making weird body gestures does not have autism. Likewise, every polite, speaking, behaving child is not always neurotypical! Bottom line: never assume you know.” — Tiffany Davidson

“Whereas people on the autism spectrum share numerous common traits, we differ from each other for the same reason that non-autistic people do.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

5. “High-functioning,” verbal people with autism are fine and don’t need any help. 

Too many people, including the programs designed to help our loved ones, assume my son’s life is easy compared to others with developmental disabilities and ignore his needs. They don’t see the sometimes debilitating anxiety and meltdowns he deals with because of his social and communication delays, his issues with transitions, his sensory issues with the environment… All too often I hear ‘He’s ‘mainstreamed’ and ‘He talks, it’s not like he has real autism.’” — Autism and my RetroGamer

“In both my personal and professional experience, I have found no correlation between severity and suffering. I have worked with severely autistic students who have been the happiest kids I’ve ever met, and plenty of “high-functioning” students who have attempted to take their own lives. Both ends of the spectrum have needs, but they vary widely.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

6. Autism 100% defines or 100% doesn’t define who a person is. 

“I think it’s a myth that autism is only a small part of who we are. It’s literally the way my brain is wired. This means I see, experience and feel through the lens of a different brain structure that certainly does extend to every part of who I am. Autism is not just my challenges or the parts other people see and struggle with.” — Andrea Michael

“Autism doesn’t define me. I define autism.” — Author and motivational speaker, Kerry Magro

7. Everyone with autism has a special talent or is gifted in some way.

“My son has significant developmental delay as well as autism, so everyone thinking he’s a genius is actually quite hurtful.” — Liz Stanley

“Just like non-autistic people, a few of us have a skill or ability that makes people, ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaah’ and others of us do not. What we all must remember is that autistic people are people. We don’t have to be talented or gifted to be worthy human beings or live meaningful lives.” — Sara LeeAnn Pryde told The Mighty in an email.

8. Bad parenting leads to autism.

There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder currently, but it’s generally accepted that it’s caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function, according to Autism Society.

“Bad parenting of autistic children (which is much rarer than you think) can lead to children not progressing the way they should be able to. Just like bad parenting of non-autistic children. But claiming that it ‘leads to’ autism is both demeaning and scientifically wrong.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

9. People with autism will never be able to lead a “normal” life.

“I think living with autism is no better or worse than living a typical life. Each life is special in its own way. I love my life with autism.” — Philip Reyes, via his mother, Lisa Reyes, in a blog for The Mighty titled, “I Have Nonverbal Autism. Here’s What I Want You to Know.”

“An autistic person’s future prospects vary widely depending on how their autism affects them. Some of us cannot live independently. Some of us have university degrees. And speaking as one of the latter, I don’t believe a person’s value should be based on how effectively they can meet preconceived expectations of ‘normality.’ (Besides, who on Earth wants a ‘normal’ life?)” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

10. People with autism don’t smile or truly feel happiness.

“My son is joy personified.” — Emily Matejic Souders

“Try telling that to the wonderful children I’ve worked with in special education. Some of them never stopped laughing. Where on Earth did this stereotype even come from, anyway?” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

11. People with autism fit into one, easily definable set of characteristics.

Every person on the autism spectrum has at least one, maybe more, attribute that doesn’t ‘fit’ with autism. For instance, my son has an intuitive understanding of humor, inference and reading between the lines. This quality helped delay diagnosis and makes people say, ‘He can’t be on the spectrum because of X.’ As I’ve gotten to know many more people on the spectrum, I’ve come to see that this phenomenon is more the exception than the rule. I know one girl with Asperger’s who had minimal problems making and keeping friends for instance. When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” — Karen Capucilli

“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: people with autism differ widely from one another for the same reason that non-autistic people do. You know, because we’re people.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

12. People with autism are antisocial and have no friends.

“My 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter (both on the spectrum) are outgoing, boisterous children who are very popular in class and well known at school for their smiles and positive attitudes.” — Audra Cederquist

“Another generalization that isn’t helpful. I am deeply introverted and don’t require one-on-one friendships to the degree that my non-autistic counterparts do, but many autistic people are highly sociable. We are not one-size-fits-all. What is true for autistic people is that we struggle to some degree with the social skills necessary for making new friends and maintaining relationships.” — Sara LeeAnn Pryde told The Mighty in an email.

13. Kids with autism will just grow out of it eventually.

“Just because someone can talk/make eye contact/decode social cues now doesn’t mean that adult has ‘outgrown’ autism. Amazing autistic adults work hard when they do these things and it is exhausting.” — Anna Sul

“It is possible that autistic children can learn their way out of many of their struggles, with the right support and encouragement. But you cannot outgrow a personality, and you cannot outgrow the wiring of your own brain. It would be like outgrowing having two ears.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

14. Only boys have autism.

Girls can have autism too. Although ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls, girls are still diagnosed with autism at a rate of about 1 in 189.

“This stereotype is not only false; it’s damaging. Girls display their autistic traits differently to boys, and because the boys’ traits appeared more distinct and ‘visible’ when the professionals came up with the diagnostic criteria, the boys’ traits became the basis for diagnosis.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

15. Autism is a tragedy.

“[I’d like to bust the myth] that autism is a ‘tragedy’ that needs to be prevented or ‘cured’ and that we need to do everything we can to make autistic people ‘fit’ into a neurotypical world instead of embracing their differences and accepting them and their marvelous minds just the way they are.” — Kim Koloski

“Your gross underestimation of my awesomeness is the tragedy, my friend.” — Chris Bonnello told The Mighty in an email.

“The tragedy is the misinformation about autism floating around in the ether, which is to blame for even educated people insisting that only little boys obsessing over toy train sets and banging their heads against walls can be autistic. The same misinformation that leads to misdiagnosis and maltreatment, or no diagnosis at all… we are not broken, and we can thrive.” — Sara LeeAnn Pryde in her story for The Mighty, “What I Want You to Know About Autistic Adults.”

Originally published: December 11, 2015
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