Myths About Autism

Despite the growing number of people affected by autism in the United States, there are still many misconceptions about autism. Thanks for your desire to be informed and help to spread the truth about autism spectrum disorders.

Myth: People with autism don’t want friends.
Truth: Many people with autism want friends, but they may struggle with social skills, making it difficult to interact effectively with peers and form social relationships.

Myth: People with autism don’t have feelings.
Truth: Individuals with autism certainly do have feelings. However, the skills to express and communicate those feelings are often difficult for those with autism to master. They may express their feelings in some unusual ways.

Myth: All individuals with autism are nonverbal.
Truth: Some individuals with autism are nonverbal or non-conversational. However, the autism spectrum also includes individuals who are extremely verbal.

Myth: People with autism who are nonverbal cannot communicate.
Truth: Communication does not necessarily have to involve language; people can communicate through various actions. Nonverbal communication, whether by use of a communication device or some other method, just requires a little more time, effort and patience to master and for others to decipher.

Myth: People with autism never make eye contact.
Truth: Many people with autism do establish eye contact, although they may have been taught to do so. Some individuals with autism may not choose to make eye contact, because maintaining eye contact is uncomfortable or difficult for them. Eye contact alone is not necessarily a measure of connection or comprehension of what is being said.

Myth: Children with autism are not affectionate.
Truth: Some individuals with autism are indeed affectionate with those they are comfortable with. Other individuals of any age on the autism spectrum may process sensory stimulation differently, causing them to have difficulty expressing affection in conventional ways. But they are capable of giving and receiving affection and love.

Myth: People with autism are a danger to society.
Truth: While there are individuals with autism who from time-to-time may exhibit violent behaviors, those behaviors are almost always caused by frustration, sensory overload, or another similar issue. It is no more likely for a person with autism to act violently out of malice than it is for anyone else in society. There is absolutely no evidence that suggests a linkage between autism and planned violence.

Myth: Autism is a result of poor parenting.
Truth: Autism was once believed to be the result of “cold mothers,” who did not love their children and caused their children to become withdrawn and unresponsive. This 1950s “refrigerator mothers” theory has long been disproven.

Myth: People with autism can’t take care of themselves, live independently, or hold down a job.
Truth: With support from people that believe in their potential, individuals with autism can achieve great things! Many of them already have. (e.g. Temple Grandin, John Elder Robison, and Jerry Newport to name a few.) Autism Tennessee can direct you to any number of books written by or about individuals with autism who are living happy, fulfilled lives as adults.

Myth: People with autism are intellectually disabled.
Truth: Although some individuals with autism do also have an intellectual disability, many individuals with autism have normal to high IQs. People with autism can have exceptional abilities just as they have limitations.

Myth: My child is affectionate and makes eye contact; he/she can’t possibly have autism.
Truth: Some children with autism are affectionate and make eye contact. The presence of these characteristics does not necessarily make an autism diagnosis inappropriate. If you have concerns that your child is not meeting their developmental milestones, please contact Autism Tennessee to obtain resources for a full evaluation from a qualified professional.

Myth: All individuals with autism are alike.
Truth: Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Every individual with autism is a unique and special person.

Myth: All people with autism are savants, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film, Rain Man.
Truth: Most individuals on the spectrum, even those with the highest IQs, are not savants. However, many individuals with autism show such an intense interest in particular subjects that they might become an expert on those subjects, appearing as if they have an extraordinary talent.

Myth: Autism occurs more commonly in populations with higher socioeconomic status (SES) and higher educational levels.
Truth: Autism appears to be evenly distributed across all SES and educational levels.

Myth: Autism exists only in childhood.
Truth: Autism is present across the lifespan. Many individuals on the spectrum can learn to deal quite successfully as adults with the challenges of their autism, though those challenges may always be present.

Myth: Children will outgrow their autism.
Truth: Characteristics and behaviors associated with autism often improve as a result of interventions, but a person with autism will always process information differently.

Myth: Autism is contagious.
Truth: Autism is not a “contagious disease.” While the exact cause(s) of autism are not known, it is known that autism is a neurobiological disorder and cannot be “caught.”

Myth: Autism is a mental illness.
Truth: While some people with an autism spectrum disorder struggle with mental health issues (such as OCD, depression, Tourette’s Syndrome, anxiety, etc.), autism itself is not a mental illness. Not every individual with autism will struggle with a mental illness in their life.

Myth: People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others.
Truth: People with autism often have trouble perceiving other people’s emotions. Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken communication, so someone with autism might not detect sadness based solely on one’s body language, or sarcasm in one’s tone of voice, but that does not mean they can’t understand other people’s emotions.

Myth: Children with autism are unruly or spoiled and they simply need to be disciplined.
Truth: Traditional discipline will not always work with children with autism. The behaviors of some children with autism that are sometimes mistaken as a “tantrum” or the misbehavior of a willful child may often in fact be caused by frustration with an inability to communicate effectively, with a painful or distressing sensory overload (not necessarily perceived by others), or by factors that we simply don’t understand. Parents can and must learn to distinguish the difference between a “meltdown” and bad behavior and how to deal with each appropriately.

We recommend: In learning to distinguish myth from truth, one key strategy for families with a newly diagnosed child on the spectrum is to attend one of Autism Tennessee’s Autism Orientations, and to connect with other families in our Autism Community by Autism Tennessee Family Fun Events.

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P: (615) 385-2077
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T: (866) 508-4987
955 Woodland Street
Nashville, TN 37206
Office Hours: Mon-Thurs 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
(Open Late Tuesday 10:00 am - 5:00 pm)
Additional hours available by appointment.

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