Nine myths about autism debunked

In some parts of Africa, autism is often compounded by cultural stigma, the causes in many cases attributed to the supernatural.

Re-examining how we approach those with differently-wired brains

World Autism Awareness Day promotes world-wide acceptance and celebration of autism spectrum disorder, emphasizing positive, realistic identities of people with ASD.

In some parts of Africa, autism is often compounded by cultural stigma, the causes in many cases attributed to the supernatural. For example, one survey of Nigerian healthcare workers’ opinion, carried out by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, showed that 40% of nurses across four institutions in Nigeria attribute autism to spiritual factors.

Such attitudes prevent early diagnosis and access to adequate support, since help is often first sought out from religious leaders or traditional healers rather than a medical practitioner.

To help put an end to common misconceptions, here are nine myths about autism, together with an explanation of the realities.  

Myth no. 1 – Autism is a mental illness

Reality – Autism is a neurobehavioral developmental disorder characterised by challenges with social interaction and communication. It is not considered a mental illness.

Myth no. 2 – People with autism are intellectually disabled

Reality – 44% of people diagnosed with autism have average or above average intellectual abilities and some may excel at math, music or another pursuit. While there are some individuals for whom learning is difficult, and for whom progress will be slow, autism can bring with it just as many exceptional abilities as challenges.

Myth no. 3 – People with autism are all alike in their symptoms

Reality – Autism is a spectrum disorder ranging in severity and the challenges posed by each autistic individual are very different.

Myth no. 4 – Children with autism are disobedient kids

Reality – Children with autism may seem disobedient because of their struggle with communication and social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with peers or understand instructions.

Myth no. 5 – Autism is caused by bad parenting

Reality – In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved.

So, while bad parenting does not aid any child’s development, it will not cause autism.

Myth no. 6 – Autism is caused by vaccination

Reality – There is no scientific evidence to support this belief. Autism is complex and seems to be caused by many different combinations of genes and environmental influences.

Myth no. 7 – People with autism don’t feel or express emotions

Reality – Autism does not prevent an individual from feeling and expressing the same kind of emotions you feel, it just makes the individual communicate his or her emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways.

Myth no. 8 – Autism only affects children.

Reality – Children with autism grow up to become adults with autism.

Myth no. 9 – There is a cure for autism

Reality – There is no medication that can cure ASD or treat the core symptoms. While some behavioral-based programs may have positive effects on some children with ASD, these need to be carefully tailored to the child, as all children with ASD will have their own needs and learning styles

Additional facts

  • Autism is present in all racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.
  • Autism is 4.5 times more common in boys than in girls.
  • Children born to parents of an older age are at a greater risk for autism spectrum disorder.


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