April is Autism Awareness month all over the globe, so there’s no better time to raise awareness. Maltese NGO Inspire will be leading the effort to not only raise awareness about autism, but also educate people on what it means to live with it.
Unfortunately, autism is surrounded by a lot of misconceptions and myths, and here are seven main ones busted.
1. People with autism do not want to have any friends
Truth: One of autism’s most common traits is a struggle with communication and social skills, which leads to situations of detaching oneself from others and needing some quiet, personal time (especially in a stressful situation or a chaotic environment).
Persons on the autism spectrum may appear to be shy or indifferent to others, but this may be simply due to a difficulty to communicate and interact in a relationship.
2. People with autism do not have feelings and cannot express any emotion
Truth: As persons with autism have difficulties in communicating, they may also have difficulty in communicating their own emotions and may not understand or perceive others’ emotions. Due to differences in sensory processing and social understanding, the display of affection may appear different to what most of us might expect… especially in a country like Malta which is full of very openly passionate and emotional people.
Since it is extremely difficult for people with autism to tell what other people are feeling through the information they convey through their body language and tone of voice, they have difficulty with empathizing with others, leading to a major challenge.
On the other hand, it has been reported that many persons with autism may have ‘too much empathy’, thereby overreacting to other people’s pain or worries and taking them on as their own.
3. People with autism are basically just like that guy from the film Rain Man
Truth: Only 1 out of 10 people with autism fall within what is known as the Savant Syndrome. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from one person to another. Knowing one person with autism means that you know one person with autism – each and every case is individual and unique. And this is not just the case around the world, but also on our own tiny island.
Most people on the spectrum may excel in specific areas that relate to their special interests or obsessions, which are often referred to as ‘splinter skills’ for their inconsistencies.
4. Children with autism are just odd / naughty / quiet / hard headed and will eventually grow out of it
Truth: We’ve heard this one too many times in Malta. Autism is a lifelong condition. Children cannot ‘outgrow’ autism, but symptoms may lessen (or change) as the child develops and receives appropriate interventions. There is currently no evidence-based cure for autism.
Children with autism respond very well to structured early intervention, education and vocational placements that focus on their unique learning style. Given appropriate education, many students with autism will grow up to be successful contributors to society.
5. Autism is just the result of bad parenting
Truth: Children on the autism spectrum are not the only ones who are misjudged by this myth. Countless Maltese parents have reported kind members of the general public giving them a lecture on how to discipline their child. “Give him a good spanking and he’ll listen and obey.”
The link to this statement stems from a theory called the ‘Refrigerator Mother Hypothesis’ that came up in the 1950s, when it suggested that autism was caused by mothers who lacked maternal warmth, discipline and bonding with their child. This has long been disproved and is completely untrue.
6. Most people with autism do not have a spoken language, so they cannot communicate with others
Truth: Communication does not depend on spoken language. Many individuals with autism will develop speech seemingly effortlessly, but may still need help to communicate appropriately when in a social situation. Others will require assistance to communicate their basic needs and wants.
However, with the assistance of using a combination of words, gestures, and augmentative communication systems such as PECS and other devices, communication is most definitely possible and effective.
7. Autism is a new condition
Truth: Leo Kanner first described children with autism in 1944. Up until the 1960’s, autism was thought to be some form of childhood schizophrenia, and was therefore similarly diagnosed. The criteria for diagnosing autism was clearly defined in the 1980s.
Since the label of autism did not exist before 1943, there were zero individuals diagnosed with autism, which is most definitely not the case. In fact, records exist describing persons with autism as far back as the 1800s, with all of them probably. being misdiagnosed and given other labels (such as schizophrenia).