Myths and Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Myths and Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism, now called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), covers a wide array of conditions that include challenges with social skills, speech, nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. There’s no “single” form of autism — each person’s experience lies somewhere on the spectrum of difficulties and has their own set of unique challenges.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affected an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States in 2016. Boys were four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls, but the disorder affected all ethnic and socioeconomic groups equally.

At Memphis Neurology, our expert team of neurologists understands the challenges an ASD diagnosis brings to patients and their families. What’s worse, though, is that ASD comes with many myths and urban legends that paint a misleading or outright false account of what the disorder entails and how best to manage it. To that end, they’ve compiled some of the most common myths and the facts that debunk them.

Common myths about ASD and the facts that debunk them

Here are some of the most common or dangerous myths about ASD and why you shouldn’t believe them:

Myth #1: Autism is a new condition

FACT: The earliest known description of a child with ASD was written over 200 years ago, in 1799; the first modern-day scientific description came out in 1943. It wasn’t until 2013, though, that the American Psychiatric Association took four distinct types of autism diagnoses and put them under the “umbrella” of the autism spectrum. The condition isn’t new; only the overall description is.

Myth #2: Autism is a mental health disorder

FACT: Autism is a neurological disorder, not a mental health one. It comes with distinct abnormalities in the brain’s structure and certain neurotransmitter levels. However, those with developmental disabilities, in addition to ASD, are twice as likely to have a comorbid mental health disorder that also requires treatment than people who aren’t developmentally disabled.

Myth #3: Autism is caused by vaccines

FACT: In 1998, a research study published in the Lancet and spearheaded by physician Andrew Wakefield claimed the MMR vaccine increased the risk of autism. Of course, that made headlines. However, rigorous scientific follow-up showed no such link, and the conclusion had been drawn from poor scientific practices and constituted outright fraud.

When this came to light, 11 of the paper’s researchers withdrew their conclusion, Wakefield lost his medical license, and the journal retracted the paper. Since then, no study has been able to prove that such a vaccine-ASD link exists.

Myth #4: People with ASD can’t feel love or empathy and are unable or unwilling to form meaningful social relationships

FACT: Many individuals on the spectrum do have difficulty with social interactions, but they can and do form close social relationships, fall in love, marry, and even raise children. And while they may express love in less obvious ways than those who don’t have ASD, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re incapable of the feeling.

In addition, people with autism feel just as much, if not more, empathy as others; the problem is that the ways they express it are often more difficult to recognize. If they’re anxious or under the expectation of responding “normally,” they may come across as “cold or uncaring,” even though that’s far from the truth.

Myth #5: Autistic individuals are violent

FACT: When people with ASD act out, it’s usually because of sensory overload or emotional distress, not because of malice, and they rarely pose any danger to society. In fact, many people on the spectrum try to limit their exposure to and interactions with other people since social situations may provoke anxiety and feel confusing.

Myth #6: ASD can be cured

FACT: At this time, no cure exists for any of the groups under the autism spectrum umbrella. However, many intensive behavioral treatments can ease symptoms and help a person integrate more into society. When these treatments are applied early in life (autism usually becomes noticeable in two—to four-year-olds), they can reduce symptom severity and help individuals develop behavioral and emotional coping skills that allow for a greater level of social engagement and the activities of daily living.

If you have a child you suspect has autism spectrum disorder, the first thing you need is an evaluation to get a firm diagnosis and a jump on effective treatment. Memphis Neurology can provide that and more.

Call us at either of our locations (Germantown, Tennessee, or Southaven, Mississippi) to schedule a consultation with our staff, or book your appointment online today.

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