By Kelley Yost Abrams, PhD

About the Author: Dr. Yost Abrams received her PhD  from the University of California, Berkeley and is a fellow with ZERO TO THREE. She is a parenting expert and early childhood researcher. Dr. Abrams specializes in parent-child attachment relationships, social-emotional development, and infant mental health.

Jigsaw Diagnostics Explores Common Myths and Misconceptions About Autism Spectrum Disorder

No doubt, you have probably listened to or read content surrounding myths about autism. Often, people will misunderstand autism because it’s so complex. As such, they will turn to different media, which portray adults and children with this condition in a very distinct way. 

Our team is addressing common misconceptions about autism in an effort to educate the public about how we may perceive ASD and how our understanding differs from reality. Misconceptions can be harmful, especially if they are popular and promote false information. By shedding light on these, we can ensure that more people know and understand accurate information about autism and, thus, can interact with those with ASD in healthy and supportive ways.

Misconception #1: Children With Autism Cannot Learn

Why This Is False:

When a child with ASD is in a scenario where they don’t respond or understand, this is not because they cannot learn. Children with autism interact with the world in their own ways, and they may develop skills at later times than other kids. We even have evidence of children with autism learning right in front of us. In our own neighborhoods, we may see families with kids diagnosed with ASD who grow up to live independently.

Ideas for Supporting Your Child:

It may take time for your child to process directions or questions as well as their environment. In these situations, it is important not to feel defeated or frustrated with them. If you tailor your communication to their unique learning style, you – more than likely – will see positive results. For instance, if your child does not seem to immediately respond to verbal instructions, you may want to try pairing verbal instructions with written instructions that include pictures. You can also perform the action and have your child observe you while you do it. The key is not to overwhelm your child, but rather, to embrace whatever helps them to best process information.

Misconception #2: All Children With Autism Share the Same Strengths and Struggles

Why This Is False: 

Like we previously mentioned, media, such as movies and TV shows, showcase people with autism with the same specific strengths. They are typically brainy and almost superhuman. On the other hand, people may feel all children with autism have the same struggles. For instance, while kids with autism will particularly struggle in social situations, the degree in which they struggle varies. This misconception lumps all children with autism into a very specific stereotype, when every child with autism is different.

Ideas for Supporting Your Child: 

The truth is, while some people may excel with, for example, memorizing information or playing an instrument, not all people with autism have a special talent, or a “savant skill”. Thus, a child with ASD may not excel in a particular area. In fact, they may merely have an interest in an activity or in things like, for example, animals, music, or space. Regardless of whether your child has strengths or fascinations, remember to acknowledge that they enjoy these hobbies or ideas. You can do this by partaking in their favorite activities with them or fully immersing yourself in conversations about their interests.

Additionally, if your child is struggling, support them as they work through their own concerns. For instance, if they are simply unsure how to initiate a conversation, you can offer them some examples of conversation starters, or you or another trusted family member or friend can practice conversing with them. On the other hand, if they do not have an interest in connecting with others altogether, it may be beneficial to have them partner with a behavioral therapist who can encourage them and help them work on social skills.

Misconception #3: The Causes of Autism

Why This Is False:

Another misconception about autism is that the condition appears because of various causes. For instance, you may have heard that specific parenting techniques – predominantly cold or distant methods – can cause autism. There is no current evidence to support this claim; if a child is diagnosed with autism, it is not because their parents are at fault.

Also, previously published studies noted that vaccinations cause autism. These resources have since been removed as they proved to be false. Current research mentions that the most likely factors that increase the risk of a child developing autism are environmental influences and genes. Some studies confirm that examples of these include inheritance, possible exposure to chemicals in pregnancy, and potentially the parents’ age.

Ideas for Supporting Your Child:

At the end of the day, every child needs ample support from their parents, as a parent’s guidance aids kids in growing to be self-sufficient adults. Continue to be present with your child on a daily basis, as they’ll need your encouragement and guidance to learn and eventually become independent. In terms of vaccinations and your child’s health, consider working with your family’s trusted pediatrician.

Misconception #4: There Are Cures for Autism

Why This Is False:

When it comes to autism, there is no quick cure — let alone even a cure — for the condition. Autism is a lifelong disorder people cannot outgrow. Diets, medications or supplements, and behavioral and developmental therapies can aid in managing symptoms people may experience, but they will not cure autism itself. 

Ideas for Supporting Your Child:

When people first receive this information, a possible reaction to an autism diagnosis is panic. While this may be a gut reaction, an autism diagnosis does not mean your child will not live an incredible and fulfilling life. Plus, there are a wide range of ways in which we can support those with ASD. Rather than focusing solely on the fact that your child has received an autism diagnosis, aim to provide your child with access to early intervention and therapy. Before implementing new types of treatment in your child’s routine, always consult with your family’s trusted medical professional.

Misconception #5: Only Boys Have Autism 

Why This Is False:

Though boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism, this does not mean that only boys can live with autism. Girls have also been diagnosed with autism, but the reasons behind the sex ratio in diagnoses remain unknown. There is speculation that girls may “mask” their symptoms, hence why the condition may not be detected until later in life – or at all. Additionally, biases in the historical diagnostic process and research also contribute to the gender differences in diagnosis rates.

Ideas for Supporting Your Child:

As we have stated in other resources across our site, autism will look different for every child. You may even encounter lesser known symptoms. No matter your child and their identity, it is crucial to pursue an evaluation at the earliest signs of any developmental delay or different behaviors in your child.

Misconception #6: Autism Is Still Relatively New

Why This Is False:

This misconception is simply not true, as the first autism diagnoses happened decades ago. Also, the number of people diagnosed with autism continues to rise, and this increase in autism diagnoses is due to a couple factors. First, there is greater awareness, as well as a boost in access to valuable resources for kids and parents. Secondly, there is simply an increase in the incidence. More adults with autism are having more children. Plus, more adults are using assisted reproductive technology like IVF to have children

Ideas for Supporting Your Child:

As we mentioned above, more people recognize and understand how autism can appear, so today, there are more ways to seek guidance and support for your child—for example, through screenings and evaluations

We hope you gained valuable information from our insight. While we explicitly listed a handful of myths, there are likely others out there. To learn more regarding common misconceptions about autism, we encourage you to speak with the Jigsaw team. We provide comprehensive evaluations, which will give you additional insight into ASD and other neurodevelopmental conditions.

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