Autism – the myths & facts
It is important to remember the autistic spectrum is just that – a spectrum. People with autism are all different and have varying challenges and strengths. Advice can be conflicting and it can be hard to know what to believe. Here we look at some common misconceptions.
Autism is a ‘trendy’ condition that everyone seems to be keen to diagnose.
There has been a dramatic increase in rates of autism and the reasons for the rise are currently subject to debate. Many experts think it is probably almost entirely due to a mix of broadened diagnostic criteria and greater awareness of the condition.
Autism is just an excuse for bad or antisocial behaviour.
‘Bad behaviour’ may be the product of distress, and situations that people with autism struggle with (e.g. sensory overload, changes to routines, or unkind comments) can result in outward displays of ‘inappropriate behaviour’.
Autism is a learning disability.
Autism can be accompanied by learning disability, but it is not a learning disability in itself.
Autism is a mental illness.
Autism is not a mental illness. However, distress caused by social conflict, sensory overload, misunderstandings, discrimination and other factors can result in people with autism being more vulnerable to developing mental health problems, due to distress. Girls, in particular often mask their symptoms in order to fit in, but over time and when out of the social situation their mental health can suffer.
Autism is a life sentence and children with autism won’t have a meaningful future
Autism can certainly have a big impact on individuals and families, who can face great difficulty and distress. However, portraying autism as a tragedy can have negative consequences for autistic people and should be avoided.
All parents want their child to have a healthy and happy life. By focusing on healthy habits, individual strengths, and nurturing social relationships we can create a solid foundation for a meaningful life. Developmental delays may present challenges but early intervention programs offer support and opportunities for promoting communication and social skills to succeed in life. And by creating more supportive and inclusive communities, individuals with autism can develop friendships, especially with people who share similar interests.
Autistic people are like the character in Rain Man.
The character of Raymond in Rain Man, played by Dustin Hoffman, could memorise and recall a remarkable amount of information. Although some autistic people may have special talents or unusual abilities, not all autistic people are like this.
The National Autistic Society suggest approximately 0.05 per cent of the autistic population has an extreme talent or genius-level gift. The idea that everyone with autism has a gift may seem like a positive misconception, but it can create difficulties for autistic people and their parents because there’s an immediate perception that their child must be good at something.
Autistic people are unable to empathise with others and can be unfriendly and uncaring.
Autistic people empathise differently from the way that neurotypical people do. Although many autistic people may struggle with cognitive empathy (the ability to predict others’ intentions) they may have affective empathy (the ability to share others’ feelings) and compassionate empathy (the desire to help others).
Often individuals with autism don’t know how to be in certain social situations and can appear anti-social. Some don’t like to be held close because they have a sensitivity to touch, but this does not mean that they are not loving or capable of love.
It is true that some people with autism are unfriendly or uncaring- but some neurotypical people are too! In fact, it could be argued that is everyone else who needs to show more understanding of what the world is like from the perspective of a person with autism.
There is no cure for autism.
There are no medications to treat autism, although people may use medications to treat conditions that may be associated with autism. At present, there is no known cure for autism and it’s a lifelong condition. Many people consider autism as a different way of being which should not be ‘cured’. Talk of disorder and cures can be offensive to people who feel their autistic nature is a fundamental part of who they are. It can bring a unique way of viewing the world and people with differences enrich life. So, although it’s important to find ways to treat specific difficulties that pose challenges to daily life, there also needs to be a better understanding and acceptance of individuals with autism. Support services, an end to prejudice and discrimination, and an acceptance that humanity is neurologically diverse would be a hugely positive development. Interventions can help people with autism learn specific skills, and the earlier the intervention, the greater the chances to lead a successful life with autism.
Your Employee Wellbeing has a team of experts who help support employees with the challenges they face in every day life. Our childhood resource associate, Karen Beresford, wrote this article.
Karen has provided us with some excellent articles this week to support World Autism Awareness Week:
What is autism?
Is your child on the autism spectrum?
Seeking a diagnosis for autism
Post autism diagnosis support
Conditions on the autistic ‘spectrum’ can often be undiagnosed and adults can live with it their whole lives, learning to deal with its effect by creating their own coping strategies. Neurodiversity is one of the many topics Your Employee Wellbeing covers in its Employee Wellbeing programmes.
Get in touch to see how we can help you support your employees.
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