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Myths about autism

Myths about autism spectrum disorder

December 4, 2015

There are many myths and misconceptions around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Here, we shed some light on three of the most well-known.

Slowly but surely, awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is growing across the world. Around 1 in 200 Aussies have autism (ABS, 2012), and boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.

Autism is a complex lifelong condition, but it’s gradually becoming better understood by both medical researchers and the general public alike. It affects the way someone interacts with the world around them, as well as with other people. As ASD can be very variable, the word ‘spectrum’ describes the range of difficulties that someone with autism may experience.

There are still many myths and misconceptions surrounding autism, most of which stem from times when ASD was poorly understood. Let’s take a look at a few of these, and then dispel them with solid, scientific knowledge!

Myth #1: Autism is caused by vaccines

Perhaps the most prevalent myth of all, but one that has been consistently debunked time and time again. The Australian Government’s Department of Health state that there is no evidence that thiomersal, a preservative used to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination, can cause any health problems including autism.

What’s more, since 2000, Australia’s National Immunisation Program does not even include thiomersal in its vaccines, as they are made in sealed vials, negating the need for a preservative.

It was once theorised that the MMR jab (measles, mumps and rubella) could specifically cause autism, catching the attention of the international press. However, that theory was quickly proven to be inaccurate and the data fraudulent, and all studies since have completely dismissed the idea.

Myth #2: There is a worldwide autism epidemic

If you look at the figures quoted by the ABS that the number of people with autism has increased by 79% from 2009 to 2012, you may believe this myth has an element of truth to it. It is true that there has been an increase in the number of people diagnosed with autism, but that does not mean that there is an autism epidemic.

An explanation on why it may appear as though autism is on the rise is because there have been notable advances made around how autism is diagnosed. These advances mean that we are now able to identify autism much more easily than we were previously, and recognise subtle signs of autism at a much earlier age.

In the past, it was sometimes thought that many people who had autism were introverted or shy. An article in Raising Children states that people who may have been undiagnosed a decade ago may well have been today.

These days, we can better understand how autism affects people differently and the spectrum which it covers.  Diagnoses which were previously separate from one another are now being covered under the one name, ASD, also making it appear as though there has been a more dramatic increase.

Myth #3: People with autism are incapable of feeling emotions

This is perhaps one of the most absurd of the autism myths, and its origins are completely baseless. People with autism can feel and experience a huge range of emotions including love and affection, and they can sometimes be even more pronounced than usual.

However, this misconception perhaps abounds because people with ASD may find it particularly difficult to express these emotions, or communicate freely about what they are feeling. Often, people with autism can and do display emotions, but they do so as and when they feel comfortable.