April is Autism Awareness Month, with World Autism Day held on the 2nd of April every year. More recently, however, it’s started to be rebranded by those who are #ActuallyAutistic (such as myself) as Autism Acceptance Day/Month, due to what some see as a negative connotation of the word “awareness”. While most people do mean well with raising awareness of autism, unfortunately this could mean they could be unwittingly spreading myths (no doubt influenced by Rain Man). Here, I’m going to look at five of the most common autism myths – and bust them.
Myth #1: Autism is just for boys
This is probably the most popular one. Most cultural depictions of autism show the “sufferer” (I hate using that word about someone with autism) as male, usually with social awkwardness or very fixed specific interests, a la Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory. While it is true that autism seems to occur more often in boys, girls can also be autistic (I’m living proof of that!) But because of society pushing the “autism is a boys’ thing” myth for so long, many girls on the spectrum may try to hide their autism to “fit in” with their neurotypical peers, and is a prime factor in why many females are diagnosed much later in life.
Myth #2: Autistic people have no empathy
In fact, I’ve often found it’s the exact opposite – autistic people are probably the kindest people around. Sometimes I say that I have too much empathy, but it’s better to have too much than none!
Myth #3: Vaccines cause autism
This one probably angers me the most. If you don’t know the story, in 1998, a man called Andrew Wakefield published a study in the medical journal The Lancet that supposedly linked being vaccinated – more specifically, having the MMR vaccines (for mumps and rubella) – with a higher risk of autism. The study has since been debunked and discredited by many in the medical and scientific communities, and subsequent studies have shown no evidence that autism is caused by vaccines. And with four vaccines for COVID-19 now widely available, it’s more important than ever to be protected – autistic or not.
Myth #4: Autistic people are all the same
There’s a reason why it’s called the autism spectrum. There are many different types of autism, including Asperger’s Syndrome, so why should they all be assimilated into one? Some may function almost like a neurotypical person (with some difficulties), while others may need constant care and support to do everyday things that most of us take for granted.
Myth #5: Autism goes away when you turn 18
In short: no, it doesn’t. I’m 26 now and am still very much on the spectrum. While autism is often thought of as a childhood thing (my diagnosis even included “childhood autism”), there are a lot more autistic adults than children. Many studies on autism have only ever focused on children, with adults being left out, but there’s support for everyone on the spectrum – whether they’re six, 16, or 60! Becoming an adult does not magically “cure” autism (and many autistics don’t want a cure).
With these myths now busted, hopefully you’ll have become better informed about autism. But we don’t just want awareness – we want acceptance too.