Despite 500,000 people living with autism in the UK (around 1 in 100 people), false and often negative perceptions about the condition are common. For instance, many people believe that all individuals with autism are geniuses, just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in ‘Rain Man’. In reality, only about one or two in 200 individuals with the condition have an accompanying special ability and are known as autistic savants.
This lack of understanding can make it difficult for people with autism to have their condition recognised and to access the support they need. Misconceptions can lead to some people with autism 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, the UK’s leading charity for people with autism.
A selection of the myths and facts posted by the NAS follows:
Autism Myth: Autism is the result of emotional deprivation or emotional stress.
Autism Fact: Autism is a lifelong disability. Many people with the condition are susceptible to anxiety disorders.
Autism Myth: Autism is a mental health condition.
Autism Fact: Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition which exists along a spectrum.
Autism Myth: If a person has autism, they will not have any other condition.
Autism Fact: Autism can coexist with other conditions including ADHD, Down syndrome, epilepsy & learning difficulties.
Autism Fact: Academic research indicates that 71% of children with autism also have a mental health problem.
Autism Myth: People with autism will never achieve anything.
Autism Fact: Some of the world’s most creative people are suspected to have had autism, including Mozart & Newton.
Autism Fact: People with autism can lead fulfilling lives with the right understanding & support.
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)
Autism Fact: 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 had autism 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: People with autism are deliberately being rude when avoiding eye contact
Autism Fact: Lack of eye contact doesn’t necessarily mean someone is being rude; some people with autism find it difficult/physically painful to make eye contact
Autism Fact: People with autism’s dependence on routines can increase during times of change, stress or illness
Autism Myth: Only children have autism
Autism Fact: Autism is a lifelong developmental condition – children with autism become adults with autism
Autism Fact: Autism is not a degenerative condition
Autism Fact: People with autism are most likely to fulfil their potential with specialised support and a knowledgeable, understanding general public
Autism Fact: The NAS celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012
Autism Fact: Autism is a ‘hidden’ condition – you can’t always tell if someone has it
Autism Myth: A child with autism will grow out of the condition
Autism Fact: The right support at the right time can enhance a child with autism’s opportunities
Autism Myth: A person with autism cannot be educated
Autism Fact: With the right structured support both in and out of school, people with autism can reach their full potential
Autism Myth: All children with autism go to special educational needs schools
Autism Fact: Most children with autism 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 people with autism deal with chaotic environments or stress
Autism Fact: Stimming can be a healthy method of personal expression & sometimes communication for people with autism
Autism Fact: There are an estimated 106,000 school-aged children with autism in the UK.
Autism Myth: All people with autism require constant care
Autism Fact: Autism is a spectrum condition – while many people with autism face similar challenges, it can affect them differently & require different support needs
Autism Fact: Some people live with autism for their entire lives without ever getting a formal diagnosis
Autism Fact: A diagnosis can help people with autism explain why they feel ‘different’ or help a parent understand their child better. Diagnosis can offer a gateway to identifying and accessing appropriate support and services
Autism Myth: Autism only affects males
Autism Fact: Autism affects males and females, though statistics indicate that more males are affected. NAS research from 2012 indicates that it may be harder for females than males to get a diagnosis for autism
Autism Fact: 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 www.autism.org.uk/23620 for more information about diagnosis in the UK).