COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT AUTISM

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In recent years, the diagnoses of ADHD and autism have risen exponentially. This is not due to more autistic or ADHD people, but simply more awareness, recognition and testing for it. The perception of what it means to be autistic has changed a lot but there are still a number of misconceptions that prevent undiagnosed people from understanding who they are.

All autistic people are the same

The media commonly represents autistic people as disruptive and childlike. However, autism is extremely complex and varies from person to person, example, one person may find difficulties in sensory issues but may be a great verbal communicator, or vice versa for another. It’s this lack of awareness for the expanse of autistic symptoms that make the condition so taboo and also prevent people from realising they are autistic.

Autistic people are incapable of forming relationships

This myth arises because some people with autism can find it difficult to understand social cues and navigate social interactions. A common symptom in autism is not being able to express emotion through body language. This does not mean that they are uninterested but merely lack the understanding to express it the way that is considered ‘normal’. This leads to isolation and exclusion from others, people calling the autistic person as ‘weird’ or ‘dumb’. There are a variety of strategies that can help support social connections (like activities to develop social thinking and planned events around shared interests). Relationships are a ‘two-way street’, and success is never the responsibility of only one party.

Autism is a disability

Autism is not an illness or a disease, but simply a condition that’s different to ‘neurotypical’ minds. The amount of people that are autistic are immense and instead of trying to make them become neurotypical – which is impossible- one should learn to accept and normalise autism.  The autism acceptance movement is often accused of ignoring the very real difficulties faced by those on the spectrum, but this does not have to be the case. The social model of disability argues that disabled people face barriers due to a bias in the way society is organised towards one ideal of body and brain, rather than anything inherently wrong with the rest of us.

Autism is a lifelong condition – so it’s not just for kids. A common misconception of ADHD is that it is a problem within children that one ‘grows out of’. This is incorrect as ADHD is mental and permanent, and although the detrimental effects can be curbed, one cannot stop having ADHD or autism.

Media representation is very much on young children. This means that many adults on the spectrum go completely undiagnosed and unsupported, and the problems faced by autistic adults are widely ignored – for example, there aren’t many autistic individuals who are employed full-time.

Autistic people are mathematical geniuses

It’s a common trope in media – the maths-obsessed prodigy who can reel off a massive list of prime numbers, the chess prodigy as shown in Queen’s Gambit – but at most, only 1 or 2 in 200 people on the spectrum have a talent to this degree. A common characteristic of autism is a hyperfixation on a subject of interest, which is what the trope is founded off. In reality, what makes autistic people ‘more’ talented at certain things is simply the fact that they have an intense passion for a subject to the point where they can exclude all other things, hence they simply have more experience and knowledge compared to the average person. 

Vaccines don’t cause autism

In 1998, a research paper linked autism to the MMR vaccine; that study has been discredited for years since, but the idea persists, resulting in reduced vaccination rates and various measles outbreaks in recent years. The “vaccines cause autism” myth is dangerous – measles can kill – and even if it were true, surely it’s better to be autistic than to be dead from a preventable disease.

The misdiagnosis of autism in women

While autism and ADHD still affect men more than women, women are often not diagnosed until adulthood as the diagnostic criteria for autism were based on studies conducted upon male autistics. Many women on social media have even spoken about how they were even brushed off by healthcare professionals when seeking a diagnosis, told point-blank that they’re “not autistic” or that their problem is “anxiety and not ADHD”. For many, this can leave you feeling confused and depressed, not understanding why you are different from the rest.

Many women with autism are misdiagnosed – often with conditions such as borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Women with autism and ADHD tend to learn over time, in childhood especially, how to hide symptoms from elders and people in general- as culturally, a hyperactive boy is often given more leeway than a hyperactive girl – which may further lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

While it’s true that both conditions affect a higher proportion of men than women, it also means that the current tools used to diagnose people with these conditions tend not to recognise female symptoms as readily.

Girls with autism on average have less obvious social difficulties and generally have better communication than a boy with autism might. This means that many girls with these conditions may be overlooked by their parents, teachers and even clinicians, as women on social media have expressed, as the diagnostic criteria do not match with their symptoms.

Autistic people have a right to receive the patience, understanding and support they deserve and if we all recognise the need to never stop learning and growing in our understanding of ASD, the better off we’ll all be.

By Ruelle Sittampalam