Nearly everyone knows someone who has been touched by Autism. Despite its prevalence, Autism is still misunderstood. Perhaps the myth and mystery come from the fact that its etiology remains unknown. Here are ten common myths of Autism:
1. A special diet will get your child to talk.
A healthy diet can do a lot of things, but it isn’t that “magic pill” that we are all searching for to increase speech. Some parents swear by a gluten or casein-free diet, thinking that it alone can help their child with Autism to talk and acquire skills. Although there have been many studies on this topic, there is no evidence that that these special diets increase verbalizations.
2. A child will grow out of Autism.
In the early stages of an Autism, many parents are under the assumption that the developmental delays are just a phase that their child will grow out of. This denial can cause parents to avoid getting a diagnosis and appropriate treatment. When parents suspect something is wrong, they should go to a developmental pediatrician to get it checked out. Therapy and early intervention can help a child tremendously, but avoiding the issue will only do harm in the long run.
3. People with Autism do not like physical contact.
Some people with Autism don’t like physical touch, however this is not the case for all. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so the manifestations and behaviors of Autism vary. Many people with Autism are very affectionate and thrive on physical contact, “cuddle time”, or really strong physical hugs, just like any typically developing child.
4. People with Autism live in their own world.
Many people with Autism are overstimulated by their environment. Tuning out, or seeming unfocused may be the only way to effectively block out people, sights, sounds, or smells. It is possible that this behavior is used as a way to escape difficult situations that are hard to process. Therapy can help teach coping skills to children, so they find less of a reason to tune out and are more motivated to stay engaged.
5. People with Autism have parents that are poor disciplinarians.
Contrary to popular belief, the behaviors of a child with Autism aren’t the result of lenient parents or “cold” mothers, as was previously thought. Parents of children with Autism often feel guilty, however they didn’t cause their child’s Autism and shouldn’t be blamed for it. Believing parental actions contribute to Autism is a common misunderstanding but has no research basis.
6. People with Autism have a “hidden” talent.
Call it the “Rain Man” effect, but many people think individuals with Autism are all genius’ with amazing memories, math skills, or abnormally high intellectual aptitudes. Fact is, it is rare that people with Autism are savants. Some are, but the numbers are probably similar with individuals with Autism as they are in the general public.
7. You can be “cured” from Autism.
While I wish it were true, there is no cure for Autism. There is no way to change the brain’s biology, however, there are effective ways to implement change over time with lots of hard work. The earlier one can begin therapy, the more progress is possible, and some children will be able to achieve “normal” functioning and participate fully in a regular education class after years of early, intensive (30-40 hours weekly) behavior intervention in pre-school. Additionally, other, less severely affected children who haven’t had intense therapy, may be in a typical classroom with only minimal support. No matter the functioning level, therapy can benefit a child with Autism. No one, however, will ever be “cured” of Autism.
8. People with Autism will never learn to speak.
Current estimates are that about 50% of children with Autism are non-verbal. While part of Autism is a language delay, parents can help. Early intensive behavior intervention can teach language to a child with Autism. Even for older kids, behavior therapy can help them acquire speech. For children who do not acquire language, other forms of communication include sign language, PECS (picture exchange communication system), and augmentative communication devices.
9. People with Autism will never be contributing members in their communities.
This myth is not only false, but hurtful. Don’t limit what a child will do or become, as you’ll see that they will always be rising above your expectations. Some will go on to college and hold professional jobs, just like their peers. Research has shown that individuals with even the most severe disabilities can be meaningfully included in school, church, and community life when tasks are modified to fit their abilities. With the help of job coaches during the end of high school, children with disabilities can maximize their strengths by finding a job that they enjoy.
10. People with Autism are unaware of their environment.
They are more aware than we often realize. Just because a child has few language skills does not mean that they can’t understand adults around them. Many kids with Autism have high receptive language skills, and absorb a lot of what you say about them. Don’t underestimate what they understand by talking about them like they are invisible.
Autism is not the end of life, but the beginning of a new journey. Embrace a child on the spectrum, and whatever you do, don’t underestimate their potential. And if I haven’t said it enough; intervene as early as possible for the best possible outcome.