11 Myths About Autism

September 6, 2018

You’ve probably heard lots of thoughts and ideas about autism, but we want to make sure you know what is true and what is false. We have put together 11 myths about autism to help put an end to any misconceptions.

All of these are great for students to share with their classmates. If you’re in college, get involved with Autism Speaks U, a program that supports college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

1. Myth: People with autism don’t want friends.
Truth: If someone in your class has autism, they probably struggle with social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with peers. They might seem shy or unfriendly, but that’s just because he or she is unable communicate their desire for relationships the same way you do.

2. Myth: People with autism can’t feel or express any emotion—happy or sad.
Truth: Autism doesn’t make an individual unable to feel the emotions you feel, it just makes the person communicate emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways.

3. Myth: People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others.
Truth: Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal 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, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.

4. Myth: People with autism are intellectually disabled.
Truth: Often times, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as challenges. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at math, music or another pursuit.

5. People with autism are just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.
Truth: Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that—knowing one person with autism. A person's capabilities and limitations are no indication of the capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.

6. Myth: People who display qualities that may be typical of a person with autism are just odd and will grow out of it.
Truth: Autism stems from biological conditions that affect brain development and, for many individuals, is a lifelong condition.

7. Myth: Autism only affects children.
Truth: Children with autism grow up to become adults with autism. 

8. Myth: Autism is just a brain disorder.
Truth: Research has shown that many people with autism also have co-occuring conditions like epilepsy, gastro-intestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and many allergies.

9.  Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting. 
Truth: In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved.

10Myth: The prevalence of autism has been steadily increasing for the last 40 years. 
Truth: The prevalence of autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years. In 1975, an estimated 1 in 1,500 had autism. In 2014, an estimated 1 in 59 had an autism spectrum disorder.

11. Myth: Therapies for people with autism are covered by insurance.
Truth:  Many insurance companies exclude autism from the coverage plan, 48 of the 50 U.S. states have passed some form of autism insurance coverage laws thanks to the work of advocates. 

If you’re interested in raising awareness in college, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.