Autism is surrounded by misconceptions, misinformation and even fear in some cases. Click-baity news articles play on the public’s fear of anything they don’t understand, but in this case the people who are being hurt by these common autism misconceptions are individuals, both children and adults, who have been diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here, we’ll try to dispel some of the most common misconceptions surrounding autism and come up with some ways to help eliminate the stigma surrounding the diagnosis.
1. Autism is one diagnosis.
Autism is used as a blanket term for anything that now falls under autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. This includes anyone who falls on the very broad spectrum that includes everything from true autism to Asperger syndrome, and other developmental disorders. Patients can range from non-verbal and non-communicative to high functioning with mild symptoms of their disorder. There are far too many different potential diagnoses for us to outline here, because ASD affects everyone differently.
2. Vaccines cause autism.
We know that everyone from Jenny McCarthy to President Donald Trump seem to believe that there is a link between vaccines and autism, but they’re wrong. First, the doctor who originally discovered the ‘link’ between vaccines and autism, Andrew Wakefield, admitted to falsifying his data, which eventually cost him his medical license. Second, there have been multiple studies that show that there is no link between autism and modern vaccines.
3. People with autism can’t function on their own.
Just tell that to every adult with autism who lives on their own, goes to school, holds a job, or even owns a business. While the majority of people with autism are currently under the age of 18, they are quickly growing up and moving out into the world. One study has also found that autism is just as common in adults as it is in children — adults are just less likely to be diagnosed with autism than children are. Around 1 out of every 100 adults falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.
4. You can catch autism.
Again, NO. Autism isn’t a disease that you can catch like the flu, or something that can be transmitted through blood or touch or any other transmission method. While we don’t know what causes autism (likely because there isn’t just one cause for the condition), we do know that it’s not a contagious condition. People with autism deserve love just as much as everyone else — don’t hold that back just because you’re afraid of catching autism because that’s entirely 100% not possible.
Fighting the Stigma
What can you do to help fight the growing stigma that surrounds an autism diagnosis?
- Educate yourself — Take the time to learn about autism, its causes, and its treatment options, from legitimate and accurate sources.
- Don’t feed the fear — Celebrities like our current president who feed the ‘vaccines cause autism’ beast are feeding the fear that is causing parents to stop vaccinating their kids. While this isn’t a piece on the importance of vaccines, that fear bleeds over into other topics — in this case, kids with autism.
- Don’t judge — That kid who is having a full meltdown in the grocery store might be on the spectrum, totally overwhelmed by sensory input with no way to express it. Don’t judge people who have been diagnosed with autism. They get enough judgment as it is.
- Be supportive — In the same vein as our last suggestion, take the time to be supportive. You don’t have to wear a puzzle piece or go to rallies to support autism research. Just reach out to the people in your community and offer your support.
People with autism aren’t monsters that need to be feared, no matter what the current celebrities are telling you. They’re just that — people. And they are people that need to be loved and supported and cared for, just like any other human being on the planet. Take the time to learn about and dispel some of the myths that surround this condition.