Common Misconceptions About Autism

Approximately one in every 68 children has autism. Despite its prevalence, the condition remains greatly misunderstood, and as a result, there are countless things misconceptions about autism. These incorrect assumptions come less from ignorance and more from a lack of education about the condition, as well as a dearth of inaccurate representations in movies and television shows.

Many of the common misconceptions about autism, however, can be righted by some basic facts: it's a developmental disorder that can have a wide-ranging impact on an individual's body and mind, from speech and language skills to social aptitude, from learning abilities to behavioral issues. It is a highly individualized condition that manifests differently in different people—there is no one, single, definitive idea of what autism looks like. It's important to dispel the myths that prevent the world from truly understanding those who struggle with this condition. 

Here are some common misconceptions about autism debunked.

  • People With Autism Don't Understand Emotions

    People With Autism Don't Understand Emotions
    Photo: Hepingting / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Many people with autism have a hard time reading emotional and social cues. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't understand emotions. The issue lies in how directly or indirectly the emotion is expressed. An indirect emotion is harder for an autistic individual to decipher, so it's easy to assume that because they don't recognize an emotion immediately, they can't understand what the emotion is or what it feels like.

    But autistic folks can read emotions and feel empathy just like everyone else; it's simply a matter of how clearly it's articulated.

  • Autism Is Linked To Aggression

    Autism Is Linked To Aggression
    Photo: Lance Nellson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Those with autism are no more prone to aggression or violence than anyone else. Children with autism can become frustrated and act out, but it isn't necessarily a sign of autism. It's more a sign of just being a kid; after all, every child misbehaves from time to time. But when aggression is present in an autistic child, it's usually a last-resort mode of communication. They are trying to say something that isn't being heard or express a need that's not being met.

    In autistic adults who display aggressive behavior, the cause is usually other psychological factors that coexist with the autism diagnosis.

  • People With Autism Are Antisocial

    There is a common belief that those with autism live in their own self-contained worlds, and they have no need or desire for friends. But most autistic people want friends; the trouble lies in expressing that need and finding friends who understand the complexities of autism. Because social skills can be challenging for some autistic people to master, they often have a hard time establishing and maintaining friendships.

    In educating autistic people, much of the focus is on how to impart healthy social skills, but autistic people also need to be aware of what is acceptable treatment in a friendship. "We teach autistic kids how to treat other people so they can have friends, but no one teaches us how friends should treat us," says writer and autism educator Brigid Rankowsi.

  • People Can Grow Out Of Autism

    People Can Grow Out Of Autism
    Photo: StartupStockPhotos / Pixabay / Pixabay License

    Autism is not like a bad cold or a bad perm. You don't grow out of it. There is no cure for autism, which means it is by and large a lifelong condition. Yet the myth persists that you can outgrow it. Why? Because intervention and treatment impart vital skills that can transform the lives and futures of many autistic folks. This growth gives the illusion of "getting over" autism, but the condition is still present; the individual just knows how to navigate its challenges more effectively.

    Early intervention is critical in helping an autistic person overcome their symptoms.

  • Autism Only Affects The Brain

    If autism is a developmental disorder, it must be centered squarely in the brain, right? That's only partly true. Yes, autism affects the brain, but it impacts other parts of the body too. Allergies and food sensitivities are common in people with autism. So, too, are various gastrointestinal disorders.

    Research shows that "children with autism had higher odds of experiencing symptoms such as constipation, food intolerance and food allergies at ages 6 to 18 months than... typically developing children."

  • Children With Autism Are Mute

    Children With Autism Are Mute
    Photo: Countincr / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Some children with autism are unable to communicate using spoken words, but it's by no means a standard for those with an autism diagnosis. The condition affects everyone in a slightly different way. While some autistic children may not speak at all, others will have no issues whatsoever with verbalization. Still, others will communicate in unorthodox ways, such as speaking in a specific style or only talking about certain subjects.

    Don't assume that because someone is autistic they don't speak. And even if they don't speak, it doesn't mean they can't hear you.