World Autism Awareness Day falls on April 2 every year. On this day, the world is encouraged to raise extra awareness about autism. In 2007, the United Nations designed this special day with one goal: to improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead meaningful lives and be an integral part of society. To support people with autism, first, we must understand what autism disorder is and what it means to have this condition. In this article, we are going to debunk six myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorders.
Myth 1: Autism is a disease
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is not a disease. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way an individual behaves, communicates, and interacts with others. People who are living with autism are, therefore, not sick. They are just who they are—loving individuals with unique conditions.
Myth 2: Autism is caused by poor parenting
Even though the exact cause of autism is still unknown, a poor parenting style is very unlikely to cause autism. This false belief is dated back to the 1950s, where there was an assumption that unloving, often neglectful parents could cause autism.
Over the years, researchers believe that the following factors could increase an individual’s chances of developing autism:
• Genetics – this includes genetic mutations and fragile X syndrome
• Family history – families whose immediate family member is diagnosed with autism have a higher risk for other members to have the same disorder
• Parent’s age – there are speculations that children born to older parents may have a greater chance of having autism spectrum disorder. However, further research is needed to establish this connection.
• Preterm babies – babies who were born before 26 weeks of gestation may have a higher chance of autism
The causes of autism disorder are not limited to the list above. Some aspects of this neurodevelopmental condition are still a mystery.
Check out our Your Guide to Supporting People on the Autism Spectrum Disorder if you want to know more about the symptoms and treatment options for people with autism spectrum disorder.
Myth 3: All individuals with autism have mental or intellectual disabilities
Individuals who are living with autism are not mentally disabled. Studies about autism have revealed that there are some abnormalities in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels, but these don’t cause mental disorders.
In some cases, an intellectual impairment may accompany the disorder. However, autism still can’t be categorized as an intellectual disability. It is difficult to measure and define this aspect from people with autism because some people may have higher IQs than others, but have difficulties communicating verbally, or vice versa. In other cases, some individuals may have difficulties in both, or not having difficulties in these two aspects but in others. Thus, the term autism spectrum disorder. Each story is different and can’t be compared easily.
Myth 4: All autistic people have savant skills
Not all people with autism have astounding memory ability to remember phone book listings or an inborn talent for counting cards like Raymond Babbitt (one of the main characters in Rain Man). In fact, it is estimated that only 10% of individuals with autism show savant abilities.
People with savant skills usually have outstanding abilities that are above the general level of the population. These proficiencies include skills in areas like art, music, memory, mathematical calculations, and manual dexterity.
One subsection of savant aptitude is splinter skills. As the name already suggests, when someone has splinter skill, they have a ‘splinter’, or a fraction of the whole skill set. For example, the ability to list baseball game statistics without understanding the game of baseball.
Myth 5: Quirky people are most likely autistic
Autism disorder has a wide span, and each case tells a different story. This means, there’s a large grey area between autism and non-autism. We shouldn’t quickly link quirky personality with autism behavior. Autism is, after all, a very complex disorder. Perhaps the guy whom you met yesterday is just eccentric, and his ability to recite a vast dialogue of Lord of the Rings films has nothing to do with the autism spectrum disorder. He is just a die-hard fan of the trilogy.
Myth 6: People could outgrow autism
Autism couldn’t be outgrown. It is not a childhood stage that naturally diminishes as the individual gets older. It could be a lifelong disorder.
Furthermore, there is no known ‘cure’ for this condition up to now, not through medicine nor therapy. However, it doesn’t mean therapy and intervention are useless. Each person with autism has different needs. The level of impact from therapies and the type of autistic traits can change throughout the different stages of life. Appropriate treatment could help and improve the overall quality of the individual’s life.
Awareness is not enough
After we debunked some myths and clarified some misconceptions, now we have a better understanding of what it meant to live with autism spectrum disorder—but is this enough?
World Autism Awareness Day is only an opportunity to highlight the autism spectrum disorder and the people who struggle with it. Don’t let your support stop on this special day. Join the events and aid the community with what you can give. Find out more about the initiative and its programs here.
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