Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that can cause social, communication, and behavioural challenges for the diagnosed individual. A lot of cases of Autism are diagnosed during early childhood, sometimes as early as 18 months. Parents or caregivers of young children may notice some delays in the child reaching certain developmental milestones that can suggest that Autism may be present. For example, they may notice that the child is not making eye contact, not showing interest in playing with those around them, or not understanding certain concepts that a typically developing child is able to understand at the same age.
There are a lot of misconceptions about ASD out there that can continue to add to the stigma and lack of understanding that the general public may have towards individuals that are on the spectrum.
Here are 5 of the most common myths we hear about Autism.
1. Individuals with Autism are a product of bad parenting.
Children with Autism may find it difficult to share their toys, to follow instructions, or to sit still in class. Some may think that these behaviours are due to the parents not teaching their child manners or disciplining them. In fact, these kinds of behaviours can be related to sensory processing issues, difficulty understanding rules, or not understanding the reasons behind those rules. Taking the time to understand why the child is acting up will allow you to find an effective way to help the situation.
2. Individuals with Autism can’t learn.
At times certain concepts may be harder for individuals on the spectrum to learn. This does not mean that they will never be able to learn this concept or skill, but rather that the educator may need to change the way they are teaching it to a way that fits their learning style. Apart from this, some individuals on the spectrum may find it difficult to maintain their attention long enough to retain a concept or skill because of sensory processing difficulties that are getting in the way. For example, a child with Autism may be unable to focus on the lesson that their teacher is giving because they are experiencing sensory overload due to a lot of background noise.
3. Individuals with Autism can’t communicate.
Children and adults on the spectrum may not communicate with others verbally. This could lead to others thinking that they are not capable of communicating with those around them. However, individuals on the spectrum communicate with us in a huge variety of ways. Hand-leading, gestures, eye contact, and body posture, are all examples of ways to communicate. They may be more subtle than verbal communication, but they are still very valid and effective ways of communicating. Individuals on the spectrum may choose to communicate using images or symbols, as well as communication devices. Adapting and familiarising ourselves with the communication style chosen by the individual with Autism is extremely important.
4. Individuals with Autism don’t want friends.
Autism is known to affect the social aspect of a person’s life. Individuals with Autism may find it more difficult to read social cues and to reach out to those around them to make friends. This does not mean that they do not want friends, but rather that they may not know how to make this step in the way that neurotypical people do. Individuals with Autism are as capable as individuals without Autism to create and form close bonds with those around them.
5. Individuals with Autism don’t understand or feel emotions.
Whilst individuals with Autism may find it harder to understand what someone else is feeling at times, this does not mean that they are incapable of reaching this understanding. They may need you to communicate your emotions more clearly to them and explain it in a way that they can understand. Similarly, individuals with Autism may show their emotions in a different way to neurotypical people. They may rock backwards and forwards when upset or overwhelmed instead of crying, or they may flap their hands and jump around when they are feeling excited instead of smiling. Research shows that individuals on the spectrum can feel all the emotions that neurotypical people can!
Educating ourselves and those around us will continue to create a more accepting, and inclusive society where individuals with Autism are not treated differently than others.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this mental health wellbeing issue you can reach out here.
Lisa Laspina is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently working with Willingness. She is reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.
What is autism? Autism Speaks. (n.d.). Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism