Understanding Autism: dispelling the myths and misconceptions
As Autism Awareness Day was the 2nd of April, I came to the realisation that as a society, there is a lack of understanding of what autism is. What’s more is that this lack of understanding is fuelled by misinformation and poor onscreen representation of autistic people. With all this misinformation surrounding a community that includes 700,000 people in the UK, I thought it would be a good idea to dispel some of the myths surrounding autism and those on the spectrum.
Autism is not caused by vaccines
In this current climate of vaccine scepticism following the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent mass vaccination campaigns to fight against it, the line that vaccines cause autism has resurfaced once again- if it ever went away in the first place. This statement is categorically untrue as vaccines do not cause autism. On the NHS website, it states the causes of autism are unclear, though it is possible that it may pass from parent to child as people in the same family can be affected by it. So, while what causes autism may be unclear, what is crystal clear is that autism is not caused by vaccines.
2. Not all autistic people are geniuses
Television shows and film often love to place autistic characters (though not necessarily the autistic actors themselves) in their productions and give them these extraordinary gifts and abilities. This perpetuates the myth that all autistic people are insanely gifted and have above average intelligence. You would think that this is a good stereotype to have about a group of individuals, however, that label can be quite damaging. In one article, the author who is autistic explained,
“Even now, sometimes when I tell people I am autistic, I can see them burning to ask me whether I have any “special abilities.” The stereotype that autistic individuals have “super” skills to compensate for their neurodivergence continues to thrive.”
As with the wider population, people have varying levels of intelligence. Assuming that all autistic people are savants negates the experiences of those whose autism has negatively affected their academic learning. There is diversity in all aspects of life - autism is no exception.
3. Autism is not an illness or something to be cured
Autism is something that people are born with or appears when they are young. There is nothing “wrong” with autistic people nor do they need to be cured. Certain people on the autism spectrum may need help with certain tasks and others do not. Once again, diversity is important in modern day society and that includes neurodiversity.
So, if there is one thing that readers learn from this article, it is that autistic people are not a monolith. There is no one way to be autistic. Forget the tv show portrayals, these are real people whose experiences should not be pigeonholed or trivialised.