You might have heard about a neighbor who hasn't spoken a word since the age of three. Or maybe you learned someone in your math class has autism. Although an estimated 1 in 110 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, because it is a spectrum, each person will face different challenges. DoSomething.org talked to Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy group, in order to debunk common myths about autism.
- People with autism don't want friends. If someone in your class has autism, she probably struggles with social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with peers. She might seem shy or unfriendly, but that's just because she is unable communicate her desire for relationships the same way you do.
- People with autism can't feel or express any emotion—happy or sad. Autism doesn't make an individual unable to feel the emotions you feel, it just makes the person communicate emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways.
- People with autism can't understand the emotions of others. Autism often affects an individual's ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism might not detect sadness based solely on one's body language or sarcasm in one's tone of voice. But, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.
- People with autism are intellectually disabled. Often times, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as limitations. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at math, music or another pursuit.
- People with autism are just like Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that—knowing one person with autism. His or her capabilities and limitations are no indication of the capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.
- People who display qualities that may be typical of a person with autism are just odd and will grow out of it. Autism stems from biological conditions that affect brain development and, for many individuals, is a life long condition.
- People with autism will have autism forever. Recent research has shown that children with autism can make enough improvement after intensive early intervention to "test out" of the autism diagnosis. This is more evidence for the importance of addressing autism when the first signs appear.
- Autism is just a brain disorder. Research has shown that many people with autism also have gastro-intestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and many allergies.
- Autism is caused by bad parenting. 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.
- The prevalence of autism has been steadily increasing for the last 40 years. The rate of autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years. In 1975, an estimated 1 in 1,500 had autism. In 2009, an estimated 1 in 110 had an autism spectrum disorder.
- Therapies for people with autism are covered by insurance. Most insurance companies exclude autism from the coverage plan and only half of the 50 states currently require coverage for treatments of autism spectrum disorders.