Autism is a condition that has a variety of myths surrounding it. In Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the brain doesn’t develop in a typical manner. This affects many areas of development. Although no two children with ASD are the same, they all face challenges in interacting and communicating with other people and have some repetitive or unusual behaviours or interests.

This week’s FYI focuses on debunking myths surrounding Autism for YOUR information.

Myth: Children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) do not care about others.
Fact: Children and adults with ASD often care deeply but lack the ability to spontaneously develop typical empathic and socially-connected behaviour.

Myth: They prefer to self-isolate.
Fact: They often want to socially interact but lack the ability to spontaneously develop effective social interaction skills.

Myth: They cannot learn social skills.
Fact: They can learn social skills if they receive individualized, specialized instruction and training. Social skills may not develop simply as the result of daily life experiences.

Myth: ASD are caused by poor parenting or parental behaviour.
Fact: Parents do not and cannot cause ASD. Although the multiple causes of all ASD are not known, it is known that parental behaviour before, during and after pregnancy does not cause autism spectrum disorders to develop.

Myth: ASD are not increasing in incidence. They are just being better diagnosed, and diagnosed earlier.
Fact: ASD are increasing across the globe at an alarming rate. Some states are considered to be in an autism epidemic. Many states experienced a 500 to 1,000 per cent increase in the past few years. No one knows the cause or causes of the increase. Better and earlier diagnosis can only account for a fraction of the current increase
in numbers.

Myth: ASD is a behavioural/emotional/mental health disorder.
Fact: Autism-related disorders are developmental disabilities and neurobiological disorders. These disorders manifest in early childhood, usually before the age of three or four, and are likely to last the lifetime of the person.

Myth: People with ASD cannot have successful lives as contributing members of society.
Fact: Many people with autism spectrum disorders are successfully living and working and are contributing to the wellbeing of others in their communities. This is most likely to happen when appropriate services are delivered during the child’s free, appropriate, public education years.

Myth: ASD get worse as children get older.
Fact: ASD are not degenerative. Children and adults with autism should continuously improve. They are most likely to improve with specialized, individualized services and opportunities for supported inclusion. If they are not improving, make changes in service delivery.

Myth: ASD do not run in families.
Fact: More families are experiencing multiple members with an ASD than ever before. In some families, parents with an ASD were misdiagnosed or never diagnosed. In some families, many or all siblings are in the autism spectrum. Most often, one child with autism is born into families who do not have other family members with an autism spectrum disorder.

Myth: All people with an ASD have ‘savant skills’, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.
Fact: Most people with autism spectrum disorders do not have any special savant skills. Some have ‘splinter skills’, areas of high performance that are not consistent with other skill levels.

Myth: It is better to ‘wait and see’ if a child does better rather than refer the child for a diagnostic assessment.
Fact: The earlier ASD are diagnosed and treated, the better. Children’s lives are significantly improved with early diagnosis and treatment. When in doubt, refer, do not wait.

Myth: ASD are something to be hidden. Other students should not know about the presence of an ASD in a classmate. If you do not tell the other children, they will not know that something is ‘wrong’ with a student with ASD.
Fact: Students need to know when their classmates have a developmental disability that is likely to affect interactions and learning. Students as young as five years old are able to identify differences in their peers. When students are not given appropriate information, they are likely to draw the wrong conclusions, based on their very limited experiences. Confidentiality rules must be taken into consideration and parental approval sought to teach peers how to understand and interact successfully with children with ASD.

Myth: Children and adults with ASD are very similar to one another.
Fact: Although all children and adults with ASD have three diagnostic features in common, each child with an ASD is a unique individual. People with ASD differ as much from one another as do all people.
(Source: John Hopkins School of Education)