HEALTHATHON: Q&A 3 Myths About Autism

What are 3 myths you hear people say about autism?



Dr. Kari Miller:

Myth:  Autism can be cured by using (fill in the blank).

Cure — “to relieve or rid of something detrimental, as an illness.”


The term “cure” suggests that complete removal of all causing influences can be achieved, and I believe that the autism spectrum behaviors may have complicated mechanisms that produce and sustain them.  At this point, I think it is most fruitful to view the behaviors and symptoms associated with the autism spectrum as capable of being improved to some degree.


There are many useful and effective approaches that help to improve the quality of life for individuals on the spectrum.  But no one approach will produce improvement for all individuals with autism.   Parents must be wary of any approach that claims to “cure” autism, because a cure just hasn’t been discovered.


It’s important to work with a multi-disciplinary team (for example, doctors, occupational therapists, educators, psychologists) to determine the most likely approaches and methods for each person, implement them, and carefully note the changes.  Many people on the spectrum benefit from more than one method, and pursuing a balanced, holistic approach to management of symptoms and behaviors, is most likely to produce the best results for your child.


Myth: Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors should always be stopped and restrictive interests should be discouraged.


One of the core characteristics of autism is repetitive and ritualistic behaviors and or limited interests.  These behaviors and interests may seem odd to parents, who worry that their child will stand out from peers and be isolated or ridiculed.  However, these behaviors can be very grounding and comforting to your child and can provide the foundation of a successful life if nurtured and accepted.


Instead of restricting a child’s interests, I advise parents to help their child investigate the power of their natural interests.  Most of us build our careers on our passions and talents.  Help your child fully develop his/her talents and interests.  Not only will this give your child more opportunities to become self-sufficient, it will give you an ideal opportunity to bond with your child.


Bonding with your child is the platform from which your child will learn social interaction, a sense of belonging and importance, and the self-confidence needed to succeed in life.  Pursue your child’s passions with him/her!


At the same time, expose your child to new areas of exploration by eagerly offering to share your own passions and talents.  Give your child time to warm up to your interests.  Keep providing the opportunity to explore – and to create – new interests and memories with your child!


As children grow, they can discover behaviors (and thoughts) that ground and center them, replacing behaviors that others may see as odd with behaviors that are more “mainstream.”  We all use behaviors and thoughts to help ourselves feel safer and more competent, and your child with autism needs to find his/her own coping strategies.  I help my students substitute more “mainstream” behaviors and thoughts for those that might unduly set them apart.  The key is to accept the necessity of calming behaviors and helping your child find ones that do the job of calming, but seem more “typical” to peers.  There is no reason to limit your child’s coping mechanisms; instead work with your child to find coping strategies that do not alienate his/her peers.


Myth: Individuals with autism have mental retardation.


Autism affects each person differently.  Although there are three core characteristics of autism:  social difficulties, communication issues and repetitive behaviors and/or narrow interests, as well as other frequently encountered problems such as sensory sensitivity, it’s my feeling that many, if not most, individuals on the spectrum have more difficulty revealing their intelligence than we understand.


It is my strong belief that everyone is capable of learning and growing in ways that defy expectations.  I always advise parents to expect a tremendous amount of improvement from appropriately focused and sustained interventions.  I see great strides made by all students when solid remedial strategies are carried out over a sufficient amount of time.  Our kids have locked within them the capacity to amaze us, if we give them the right opportunities!


Amy Hummel:

1.  Autism is caused by bad mothering

2.  People with autism can’t learn

3. Not all people with autism are the same


Abby Twyman:

As a person who works with a variety of parents, school personnel and other community members I hear a lot of different myths about autism. The three leading myths I hear are:

1. vaccinations cause autism: This is completely untrue and has been dis-proven in multiple studies. Not vaccinating children is an extremely dangerous practice because it increases the likelihood they will contract and spread fatal diseases;

2. autism is a “sensory” disorder: While it is true that some individuals are over- or under-reactive to sensory stimulation, there is no evidence supporting the idea that autism is a sensory processing disorder. Therefore, “sensory integration” techniques which are not evidence based should be avoided.

3. most individuals with autism are cognitively impaired: This to me is the saddest myth because it impacts how individuals with autism are treated and the expectations that are placed on them. There are individuals with autism who are significantly cognitively impaired, but this is not the majority. There are individuals who are unable to speak, have significant difficulty initiating or maintain social interactions and engage in high levels of stereotypical behaviors but who are highly cognitively able which is seen through their ability to communicate through typing and voice output communication aides. Autism is not equivalent to intellectual disability and a diagnosis of Autism does not mean the person is incapable of learning, progressing, and being successful in their lives. Every individual with autism is capable of great things!

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  1. Regina Edward says:

    This is a link in reference to a settlement made on May 10, 2011 for autism and vaccines.