Misconceptions of Autism

This article summarises some of the misconceptions individuals have heard and experienced first hand by self-advocates, caregivers and practitioners. Autism is a spectrum, classified as a neurological deficit by the DSM-5 represented in 3 levels. These levels allow practitioners to determine the level of support needed. Since it is a spectrum, no two individuals on the spectrum are the same.

By Desiree Kaur

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This piece was published on 27 July 2021, and updated with more “misconceptions” on 7 September 2021

Hi! My name is Desiree and I am the founder of Project Haans. As a mother on this journey with my son, Haans, I have encountered many misconceptions of autism. Since I regularly host rooms on Clubhouse, I asked self-advocates, caregivers and practitioners about misconceptions of autism they have heard of. So, this article summarises some of the misconceptions individuals have heard and experienced first hand.

Firstly, autism is a spectrum. It has been classified as a neurological deficit by the DSM-5 represented in 3 levels. These levels allow practitioners to determine the level of support needed. Since it is a spectrum, no two individuals on the spectrum are the same.

Autism is the mother’s fault

Not long after my son was diagnosed, a practicing medical doctor told me, my son’s autism was my fault. She claimed I had not looked after my diet while I was pregnant and, I should feed my son less. She claims that autistic children need to be thin and not overweight, so the less they eat, would be better for them. This sparked the fire within me to learn more and educate myself. This is definitely untrue.

Autism is generational and only happening now

Autism is a new age diagnosis because of our diet and exposure to gadgets. There are some who claim that autism did not exist decades ago. The fact is, no one knew what autism was back in the day. Most were said to have mental retardation and institutionalized. Just because we did not know about it then, does not mean it did not exist.

Autism will go away if you put a child in a “typical kindie”

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Enrolling a child in any setting that they are not ready for is unfair. One may argue inclusion, but inclusion means the environment must make accommodations for the child and not for the child to learn to “normalise”. In certain cases, a “typical kindie” setting is recommended alongside other therapy, however, this is only recommended when the child’s readiness has been assessed by a professional.

Autism is caused by bad parenting and gadgets

Autism is a neurological condition. It is not caused by how one is brought up. Parenting skills do not cause a neurological condition. While overexposure to gadget for any child can impede social and communication skills, it is an unfair judgement to say that gadgets are the sole cause of autism.

Autism is physical and people “look” autistic

No one “looks” autistic. A person with autism does not look “different” physically. It is sometimes confused with the features of someone with Downs Syndrome too. The brain of someone with autism, functions differently from neurotypicals. For example, neurotypicals may run on an Android operating system, whilst someone with autism is on iOS. While everyone is able to function, they do so differently.

Autism is a disease

Autism is not something to cure . People do not “suffer” from autism, in fact this term is offensive to many. Research is still ongoing on the causes with no significant known cause. Autism is classified as a neurological deficit or condition. The terms disease, illness and ailments are not appropriate to describe autism.

Autism is all about meltdowns

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Tantrums and meltdowns are not the same. It is also not the the only determining factor of autism. There are many other criteria to meet before a diagnosis is rendered. Meltdowns mean their system is in overload, usually from sensory processing challenges. It is not a choice. Also, if someone does not have as many meltdowns, it does not make them “less autistic”. Most adults have mastered the art of masking. Fewer meltdowns does not mean the struggles are less.

Autistics are either highly intelligent or have a below than normal IQ

Approximately 1 in 10 autistic people have savant skills. Savant syndrome is not exclusive to autism. Being autistic does not mean a person has an exceptional talent or skill. Additionally, it is unfair to assume if an autistic isn’t a genius then they must have lower than average intelligence. Non-speaking does not mean not intelligent. Remember, autism is a spectrum. The intelligence levels varies according to each individual.

Autistics have no empathy nor understand emotions

Just because someone understands and processes things differently than society expects, does not mean they do not understand it. Feelings , emotions and empathy are subjective. Expressing it differently or not expressing it for all to see, does not make it wrong or non-existent. Since feelings and empathy are felt and not necessarily on display for everyone to see, it is unfair to say that one does not experience it at all.

Someone with eye contact can’t have autism

The lack of eye contact is not exclusive to autism. There are individuals with autism who have no issues with eye contact whereas for some, it can be physically painful or even frightening to look someone else in the eye. Masking is also something that many adults with autism have mastered with a lot of practice. Furthermore, having good eye contact does not necessarily mean a good exchange in communication. People can still communicate without eye contact.

There’s more….

This is not an exhaustive list of all the misconceptions out there. Culture and values from across the globe also play a role in the misconceptions of autism. While some cultures still find it hard to accept and understand autism, it is later accepted conditionally with the notion that an autistic, must be talented or highly intelligent. It is as if, the special talent or skill compensates for the autism diagnosis.

Nevertheless, more and more are speaking out their truths about these misconceptions. Even more are out there advocating, educating and providing solutions for an inclusive society that embraces diversity without even trying. If you have a story to share about neurodiversity, email us here .

“Can we have inclusion without trying? Trying means it is an effort. When something is effortless, it means acceptance has been attained. Embrace diversity & inclusion.”

-Desiree Kaur

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Desiree is the founder of Project Haans and mother to Haans, the inspiration behind this project. She is based in Malaysia. Writing is her passion and she hopes the Spectrum of Voices will become a space for people to share their stories, learning, strategies and have their voices heard.

Project Haans is a self funded initiative. If you would like to support Desiree’s work and Project Haans, you can do so via BuyMeACoffee here.

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