TALKING AUTISM: WHAT IS A MYTH?
Dr Anupama Iyer, Consultant Learning Disability Psychiatrist
“People often assume that Connor must be amazing with art or music. He’s very bright but in a very unique way. He struggles to understand the world the way we can, but sees and senses so many things that other people don’t”
Father of Connor, 9 years old with autism
In this current day and age, autism awareness is growing exponentially. However, there are still many common misconceptions about the common questions of what autism is, what causes it and the ways it affects different people in a variety of different ways. Here at the Oaktree Clinic, we want to shed some more light on these misinterpretations.
Myth number 1: AUTISM IS LINKED TO VACCINES
Possibly the biggest and most damaging misconception is the claim proposed by Andrew Wakefield, that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism. This fraudulent claim led to the public disgracing of Dr Wakefield for a number of reasons and his claim was repeatedly disproven in subsequent years in many high quality research studies that proved there was no link between vaccinations and autism.
Myth number 2: AUTISM IS A CHILDHOOD CONDITION
Autism is lifelong. Actually, in the UK there are more adults than children with autism. Research suggests that outcomes can change for people over time if they get the right support, language and communication skills can improve and anxiety can be calmed.
Myth number 3: AUTISTIC PEOPLE HAVE SPECIAL TALENTS
Many parents of individuals with autism and those with autism are asked about this and it can be extremely frustrating and often come across as condescending. We all have strengths and weaknesses and people with autism are no different. Research suggests that around 28% of autistic people demonstrate specific abilities, excelling far in excess of the average neurotypical individual, but we don’t know why.
Myth 4: AUTISTIC PEOPLE HAVE LEARNING DIFFICULTIES
With the right support and a suitable environment, many autistic people are very able and independent. Some autistic people take longer to process information, but it doesn’t mean they don’t understand. Autistic people also have strengths over those without autism. For example, vehement attention to detail and a special ability for seeing patterns in data can bring many advantages.
Myth 5: AUTISTIC PEOPLE ARE ANTI-SOCIAL
Autistic people may need extra support with social skills or interact differently with the world around them, but most autistic people enjoy having relationships. Those with autism express their difficulties in different ways. Some are quiet and shy or avoid social situations, others speak too much and struggle to have normal two-way conversations. Implicit communication can be confusing for autistic people and things such as body language, tone of voice and sarcasm can be difficult for them to read. These challenges can make it difficult to make friends, build relationships or get on at work; things neurotypical individuals often take for granted. Taking time to get to know autistic people and understand their differences in an environment where they are happy makes all the difference.
Myth 6: ONLY BOYS ARE AUTISTIC
Autism is significantly more prevalent in boys than in girls. But girls are more likely to ‘mask’ their autism, learning the skills to interact with the rest of the world better than boys. This can mean that girls with autism are diagnosed much later in life than boys.
Myth 7: AUTISM IS CAUSED BY BAD PARENTING
Autism is definitely not caused by bad parenting. Research has proved that parenting is not to blame. Parenting style can certainly equip an autistic child with the tools to better cope with the world, but it is definitely not the root cause of autistic behaviour.
We need not look at autism as a terrible disorder with a low ceiling of promise, but as a marvelous opportunity to look at the world through a different lens and walk in different shoes. If you or someone close to you needs support for mental health issues, please do not delay seeking out help. There are people who can help you.