10 Autism Myths- Busted!
There are a lot of myths about autism, and we think it’s important to clarify the truths about autism. Let’s turn those autism myths into autism truths!
On this post, we will go into further detail about autism but we will address it from a commonly misconceived perspective as this is a great way to relate to people who don’t quite understand autism. Before we can make people understand autism better, first we have to understand their perspective and address that.
What is Autism?
But first, what is autism? This is often the question people ask who have heard of it and come across it but don’t understand it.
To best describe it is like this…
Autism is PART of a person and it is what makes that person- themselves. Autism means that, that person perceives and interacts with the world differently. It means that they understand the world differently, and it can also mean in some cases, that they notice things in the world that everyone else overlooks. You could say that, autism being part of what makes a person, is like how being tall or having the ability to whistle makes that person who they are.
Autism is an advanced personal developmental condition that:
- Makes an individual’s sensory processing more advanced
- Makes an individuals brain function in a more complex way.
- Comes with a lot of benefits.
- Poses some challenges which affect every individual’s lifestyles differently.
Unlike ADHD, Down Syndrome and other “disabilities”, autism is invisible and it is an innate part of a person that affects every person differently. Not two people with autism are the same.
That is what autism is.
Autism Myth #1. Autism is a disease/infection that people catch or develop
No it’s not! Autism is DEFINATELY not a disease and in fact, it is not something that suddenly happens to someone or develops in a person.
Firstly, we need to go back to basics and consider what makes a person a “person”. What are the key things that naturally form our identity? For example, our hair colour, our height and our in-born talents. These are the kind of things that exist in our genes and makes us unique as “individuals”. In the diagram below, most of the factors mentioned are what form a person’s identity.
When we look more in depth at how each of these factors differ from person to person, we start to realise that even people who aren’t autistic are completely different to each other anyway.
Everyone is unique.
Finally, the following diagram shows how a person who “has autism” is actually “autistic”.
When you look at this diagram, you can see how “autistic” is mentioned as part of the “building blocks” of the person. This is a great analogy that explains how autism is PART of that person rather that something that has come from the outside or something that has “infected them”.
An autistic person is no different to any other person, except “autism” is an extra part of what makes that person…
who they are.
It’s better to refer to individuals as “autistic” rather than “they’ve got autism”. This sounds a lot better and more in line with the truth of how autism is part of a person.
Autism Myth #2. Everyone With Autism is the Same
While autism is a common building block or element existent among all autistic people, that element also comes in countless different forms that in turn, affect each person in a different way.
Like everyone has fingerprints, those fingerprints are all unique and different. Autism is like that too, and every autistic person’s “autism” is also unique. This is because of the different ways in which the prenatal testosterone activities affect the person in the womb (see How Autism Works to learn more about the root cause of autism).
Therefore, if we consider a person’s personality or character as a cake made up of many different ingredients. Every cake is made from different ingredients and recipes which results in all cakes being made unique. What goes into the cake and the quantity of each ingredient are both important factors that influence the resulting cake’s characteristics.
This same analogy applies to human beings. We are all made up of different qualities, and each quality to specific degrees. In the previous diagram, we saw examples of those personal qualities and how they can differ from person to person, then we saw how autism is actually an added “ingredient” that makes up a person’s personality.
These “ingredients” react differently with one another, depending on the quantity and quality of each ingredient. With autism, it in itself is an ingredient that comes in thousands of different types and can be added to a person in different amounts. So the same thing applies to all other person elements. When these are all combined you get a whole new concoction of ingredients that result in a different product.
When you think of how many different forms of autism there can be and how many different combinations of other personal characteristics exist, you begin to understand how infinite the number of different possible results there can be when the two are combined. See all the different forms in the diagram and how they all combine and interact differently to form a unique result?
In conclusion, not only are people who are autistic not the same as one another, but pretty much EVERYONE on this planet is slightly different to each other.
Everyone is unique.
It’s not to say that everyone with autism doesn’t experience similar challenges, are display similar behaviours. BUT everyone who’s autistic is also unique in themselves just like everyone else is unique.
Autism Myth #3. Autistic People Are Incapable of Empathy & Emotions
Simply put, this is not true either. It is actually a very damaging myth too, because it results in autistic people being treated badly more often on grounds that “they won’t get upset because they have no feelings”.
People with autism- or people who are autistic rather- are still human beings at the end of the day. All human beings experience emotions.
To go into more detail as to why some people may believe in this myth, it is the fact that autism is invisible so the difficulties in an individual’s ability to express and process emotions is not obvious. Just cause autism is invisible doesn’t mean that the person is.
It is quite the contrary. The following reasons why autistic people show difficulties in emotions is because:
- Emotions get “lost” in the complex brain wiring.
- They interact with one another differently
- The chemical balance of emotions is affected.
This means that autistic people are more likely to feel things “too much”. Some emotions are far too strong and overpowering, to a point where the person’s brain wiring is incapable of managing it. This can be quite crippling for the person.
See the other blog- How Autism Works- to learn more about the science behind why emotional processing is affected in autistic brains.
Let’s take a look at how the brain’s wiring in an autistic person compares to a neurotypical brain…
The brain connections are constructed out of pieces of wiring connected in a chain-like way. These are called “neurons” which relay the information across different parts of the brain.
The amygdala is the brain’s “emotional centre”. It is responsible for triggering instinctive reactions and behaviours in response to stimuli.
Inside everyone’s brain, the amygdala receives information from stimuli (things we see, hear, feel or smell or taste) and then creates a tailored response to that stimuli.
It this relays this response in the form of “data” through more connections to the frontal region of the brain. It’s then converted and processed resulting in a reaction which is what we physical do and feel in response to the stimuli.
The key differences between a neurotypical brain wiring and autistic brain wiring can be seen in the diagram:
- More complex
- More connections
- More wiring crossing over each other
As a result:
- Information takes longer to relay due to longer chains of neurons.
- Information might become “lost” from passing too many connection points.
- Information can become “distorted” as a result of crossing wires, other information may collide, causing more mixed information.
Let’s look at some examples of what goes on when a person reacts to a stimulus.
Autism Myth #4. Autism is a “Barrier”.
When people think of autism, it’s mainly the negatives that people think about and therefore associate autism with. Autism poses many challenges, but also has a lot of special benefits to an individuals life and the people around them too.
There is scientific evidence relating to human psychology that means people are more likely to focus on the negative aspects of any given subject, situation or person. Because every situation, subject and person has “good” and “bad” sides.
Also, people’s perception of what is “good” and what is “bad” varies widely from person to person. This is why people view autism in different ways from person to person. Autism is more likely to viewed as a negative thing for:
- People without much knowledge or experience.
- People who have had a bad experience with someone who is autistic.
- People who have strong opinions about every subject.
- People who are uneducated in regards to equality and diversity.
- People who are racist, sexist, and prejudiced or bigoted towards specific minorities.
- People who are scared of anything that is out of the ordinary.
- People who are scared of anything they cannot control.
- People who believe everything they read or hear on the media and are easily misinformed.
Autism is the Problem
We have addressed the many reasons as to why people may view autism as a “barrier” and something that needs to be “cured”.
So we have a better chance of working to turn around these negative opinions.
We can now turn this on it’s head, and see autism is not an inconvenience, but rather it is society that is an inconvenience. The mentality of misinformed people, uneducated people and people who have a tendency to be prejudiced against minority groups, are the reason why autistic people experience so many challenges in their daily lives.
Society is the Problem
Autism Myth #5 Individuals “Grow Out” of Autism
Not true. This myth is believed because of the mass media misinterpreting autism.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when asked what “autism” is?
Many people who talk about autism or seek information about it are in the interests of:
- experiences in early parenthood
- extreme difficulties with children displaying challenging behaviour
The main reasons why people are led to believe that autism only exists during childhood are the following, which we will look at in more depth:
- Most people who read or research about autism are parents or carers of children.
- Lack of information for adults with autism.
- Lack of services for adults with autism in comparison to children with autism.
- Individuals have developed strategies or undergone therapies to improve or alter their autistic symptoms as they get older.
- Individuals as adults have learnt to mask a lot of their autistic traits.
- Fewer adults are diagnosed with autism compared to children who are diagnosed.
- Many children are misdiagnosed with autism resulting in greater confusion when they get older and realise their symptoms were only prominent in childhood.
- Some people have attempted methods of therapy to try to “cure” autism which leads to misinformation across many online sources.
According to a survey recently done, the first thing that comes to mind when people are asked the above question are generally:
- Creative minds
- Difficulty with social cues
- Kind and considerate
Bearing in mind, all these survey responses were from people who already knew someone who is autistic.
This is SOLID proof that autism is a profound spectrum of different traits that are not primarily associated with just children.
Autism in Children
The way in which autism symptoms are seen in young children is more noticeable. For example, disruptions to routines in school often lead to the child reacting more noticeably in the classroom.
Autism in Adults
Later in life, autism remains a fundamental part of a person’s character, which means that it is still there even when that person has grown up. However, autism symptoms in adults tend to be more subtle and therefor less noticeable. For example, a disruption to routine in the workplace will cause the autistic adult to come across as stressed and inconvenienced as opposed to a child acting out more aggressively in school.
Stress in adults is perceived as “normal” therefor the way in which most autistic adults deal with certain triggers is less likely perceived as an autistic symptom.
We hope you now have a better understanding of autism! But we know it’s a lot to take in so if you still want to learn more then visit our other page:
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