Autism Myths and Misconceptions


Myth: The appearance of autism is relatively new.
Autism was first described by scientist Leo Kranner in 1943, but the earliest description of a child now known to have had autism was written in 1799.

Myth: People who are not diagnosed with autism will never exhibit characteristics similar to the characteristics of those who have been diagnosed.
Characteristics associated with autism exist on a continuum that includes those considered "normal" and can be exhibited to a lesser degree by those not diagnosed with autism.

Myth: Autism is a mental health disorder.
Autism is a neurological disorder. Studies of the people with autism have revealed abnormalities in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels.


Myth: Autism is caused by vaccines.
There is no evidence that childhood vaccination causes autism. A 1998 study linking autism with vaccines has since been retracted.

Myth: Autism is caused by poor parenting or "refrigerator mothers."
In the 1950s, there was an assumption that autism was caused by emotionally distant or cold parents. Though the exact cause of autism has not been determined, it is now firmly established that autism has nothing to do with parenting.

Myth: Autism is caused solely by environmental factors.
Genes are likely one of the causes of autism. Parents whose first child has autism are more likely than the general population to have a second child with autism. Identical twin studies have shown that if one twin has autism, the other has a 90 percent chance of having autism as well.


Myth: Individuals with autism are violent.
Though there have been recent news stories relating autism to violence, violent acts from autistic individuals usually arise from sensory overload or emotional distress, and it is unusual for individuals with autism to act violently out of malice or pose any danger to society.

Myth: Individuals with autism are unable or unwilling to form meaningful social relationships.
Though many individuals with autism have difficulty with social interaction, they can have close social relationships, fall in love and have children.

Myth: All individuals with autism have savant abilities.
While there is a higher prevalence of savant abilities among those with autism, only about 10 percent of individuals with autism exhibit savant abilities. Some have what are called "splinter skills," meaning skills in one or two areas that are above their overall performance abilities.

Myth: All individuals with autism have mental disabilities.
Individuals on the autism spectrum are unique, with a wide range of intellectual abilities that easily can be under- or over-estimated. Tests designed to include language and interpersonal analyses may misrepresent the intelligence of people with autism, who struggle with social skills, and individuals with autism may have difficulty with tasks considered simple, but quickly master complex tasks and concepts. Individuals on the autism spectrum have also earned college and graduate degrees and work in a variety of professions. Conversely, it may be assumed that an individual with autism has a higher level of understanding than they do, based on their behavior, language skills or high-level of ability in a specific area.

Myth: People with autism are cold and lack empathetic feelings.
Individuals with autism feel as much, if not more, empathy than others, but they may express it in ways that are harder to recognize.


Myth: Autism can be cured.
There is currently no cure for autism spectrum disorders.

Myth: Therapies and programs for individuals with autism work across the board.
There is a wide range of symptoms and behaviors associated with autism, as well as opinions on when treatment is required. Since each individual is different, treatments and therapies that may be beneficial and effective for one person may not be for another.

Are there any myths or misconceptions you know are missing from this list? Let us know in the comments.

» Autism Support Network. "Seven Myths About Autism."
» Do Something. "11 Myths About Autism."
» The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership. "Myths."
» Mayo Clinic. "Childhood Vaccines: Tough Questions, Straight Answers."
» The National Autistic Society. "How to Talk About Autism."
» National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Autism Fact Sheet."
» PBS. "History of Autism Blame."
» PBS. "What Is Autism?"
» Sager, Jean. "10 Biggest Myths About Autism From Moms Who Know." The Huffington Post, February 13, 2013.
» Salahi, Lara. "10 Myths About Autism." ABC News, October 23, 2008.