Autism Myths

There are a lot of myths out there about autism, many of which stem from research done when autism was first recognised. You’re probably already aware of many of the myths, considering that a lot of them influence how autism is perceived and understood by the majority of society today.

Let’s talk about some of them.

1. MYTH: Autism is a learning disability.

TRUTH: Autism is not a learning disability. It is a neurodevelopmental condition. Statistics suggest that approximately 40% of autistic people also have a learning disability, but this number may be lower considering the number of autistic people unrecognised.

2. MYTH: Autistic people don’t make eye contact.

TRUTH: Eye contact can be difficult for many autistic people. Some don’t make eye contact, because it is uncomfortable, or even painful. Others will appear like they are making eye contact but are in-fact looking at the person’s nose or eyebrows. And some don’t find eye contact difficult at all. Autism is, after all, a spectrum.

3. MYTH: The autism spectrum is a linear spectrum from high functioning to low functioning.

TRUTH: A lot of people believe the autism spectrum to be like a straight line from low to high functioning, but this is not the case. The autism spectrum is more like a circle, with different autistic people experiencing different autistic traits to different intensities. Some have higher or lower support needs. Some also have a learning disability or other comorbid conditions. It is also important to recognise that autistic people’s ability to function can vary significantly from day to day, even hour to hour

4. MYTH: Autistic people don’t experience empathy.

TRUTH: Some autistic people experience empathy so intensely that it is physically painful taking on everyone else’s emotions and feelings too. Empathy towards animals can also be extreme. However, some do struggle with empathy and that is okay – empathy is different to being compassionate and caring about other people’s feelings, it’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and that can be hard.

5. MYTH: You can tell if someone is autistic by looking at them.

TRUTH: Autistic people do not look any different to anyone else. You have probably met hundreds of autistic people without knowing they were autistic.

6. MYTH: It is wrong to say ‘autistic person’ instead of ‘person with autism’.

TRUTH: There is nothing wrong with saying ‘autistic person’. Autism isn’t a disease or a bad thing. It’s no different to saying ‘a left-handed person’ rather than a ‘person with left-handedness’. Identity-first language (a.k.a. ‘autistic person) is more widely preferred amongst autistic people than person-first language, but it is always best to ask individuals if you are not sure

7. MYTH: Autistic people aren’t sociable.

TRUTH: Some autistic people are overly social, and it is not true that autistic people don’t want friends. Some prefer to be alone, especially to recuperate, and some children do like to play alone, which is okay, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want friends or always want to be alone.

8. MYTH: Autistic people don’t understand humour.

TRUTH: Some autistic people find it hard to interpret jokes and non-literal language, but this doesn’t mean they don’t understand any humour. There are many autistic stand-up comedians these days!

9. MYTH: Autistic people are good at maths and science.

TRUTH: Just like non-autistic people, autistic people are good at various different subjects and weaker in others. Some do love maths and science, but others love drama and art!

10. MYTH: Autistic people aren’t imaginative.

TRUTH: Imagination can be difficult, especially if the individual thinks in a very literal way, but this is not the case for all. Some can have an abundance of creative imagination, but struggle with social imagination, for example imagining different outcomes or routines from what they are used to.

It is important to remember that autistic people are all different, each with their own individual strengths and challenges.