Despite around 1 in 100 people being diagnosed as autistic in the UK, false and often negative perceptions about the condition are common. For instance, many people believe that all autistic people are geniuses, just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in ‘Rain Man’. In reality, only about one or two in 200 autistic people are known as autistic savants.
This lack of understanding can make it difficult for autistic people to have their condition recognised and to access the support they need. Misconceptions can lead to some feeling isolated and alone. In extreme cases, it can also lead to abuse and bullying. Even members of the medical profession may see an autism diagnosis as a ‘stigma’ rather than being able to see beyond that.
In 2013, the National Autistic Society (NAS) launched a social media campaign to dispel some common myths surrounding autism and Asperger syndrome. The campaign aimed to raise awareness and understanding of the condition and the support offered by the NAS.
A selection of these myths and facts follows:
Autism Myth: Autism is the result of emotional deprivation or emotional stress
Autism Fact: Autism is lifelong. Many autistic people are susceptible to anxiety disorders due to their differences with social communication, interaction and sensory processing
Autism Myth: Autism is a mental health condition
Autism Fact: Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition which exists along a spectrum. Academic research indicates that 71% of autistic children also have a mental health problem
Autism Myth: If a person is autistic, they will not have any other condition
Autism Fact: Autism can coexist with other conditions including, but not limited to, ADHD, Down’s syndrome, epilepsy & learning difficulties
Autism Myth: Autism is a rare condition which is only diagnosed in a small number of people
Autism Fact: There are over 500,000 people with autism in the UK (around 1 in 100). Including families, autism touches the lives of over two million people every day
Autism Myth: Autism is a new condition
Autism Fact: The first detailed description of a child known to have been autistic was written in 1799 by Jean Itard
Autism Myth: Autism is caused by poor parenting or parenting behaviour
Autism Fact: The multiple causes of autism are still unknown with research ongoing but it is known that autism is not caused by poor parenting or parental behaviour
Autism Myth: Autistic people are deliberately being rude when avoiding eye contact
Autism Fact: Lack of eye contact doesn’t necessarily mean someone is being rude; some autistic people find it difficult/physically painful to make eye contact
Autism Myth: Only children have autism
Autism Fact: Autism is a lifelong developmental condition – autistic children become autistic adults; autism is not a degenerative condition but you don’t ‘grow out of it’ either. Autistic people are most likely to fulfil their potential with specialised support and a knowledgeable, understanding general public
Autism Myth: All autistic children go to special educational needs schools
Autism Fact: Most autistic children go to mainstream school while others require support at special schools
Autism Myth: Stimming (repetitive behaviour like flapping or rocking) is undesirable and should be stopped
Autism Fact: Repetitive behaviour like flapping or rocking can help some autistic people deal with chaotic environments or stress and if suppressed may exacerbate their distress. Stimming can be a healthy method of personal expression & sometimes communication for people with autism
Autism Myth: All autistic people require constant care
Autism Fact: Autism is a spectrum condition – while many autistic people face similar challenges, these can affect them differently. Autistic people have different support needs which may fluctuate according to individual circumstances and environmental conditions. Some people live with autism for their entire lives without ever getting a formal diagnosis
Autism Myth: Autism only affects males
Autism Fact: Autism affects males and females, though statistics indicate that more males are affected. Research indicates that it may be harder for females than males to get a diagnosis for autism because most diagnostic tools were developed based on a male presentation of autism. The process of diagnosing autism can vary depending on location and the diagnosticians/diagnostic services but Autism diagnoses in the UK should now follow guidelines issued by NICE (See the NAS website for more information about diagnosis in the UK).