There’s no such thing as normal.
Around the world, April is also known as Autism Awareness Month.
Recognizing Canada’s vibrant neurodiversity is extremely important. Across the country, between one to two per cent of the population falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. Despite being one of the most common developmental disabilities, autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the least understood by the general population. Unfortunately, this leads to many harmful myths and stereotypes about what it means to have ASD.
In honour of those with autism in our lives, we have created a list of the 5 most commonly held misconceptions of autism:
1. MYTH: Autistic people don’t feel emotions and don’t understand the emotions of others.
FACT: Of course, autistic people are able to experience emotions!
This common and damaging myth comes from a lack of understanding of how autistic people are able to process non-verbal information. For those on the spectrum, understanding and reacting to emotional cues can be challenging. Someone on the autism spectrum may not be able to immediately pick up on subtle body language cues or tones of voice, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. If anything, you will never find a more kind-hearted and caring group of individuals!
Individuals with autism also express their own emotions differently than a neurotypical person might be used to seeing from others.
2. MYTH: Only boys can have autism.
FACT: While it is true that autism is more frequently seen in boys, girls can definitely have autism.
Some researchers believe the criteria used to diagnose autism is too male-focused. At a younger age, the typically “male” traits of autism are more easily identifiable than those shown by girls, because girls put more effort into masking their symptoms. Doctors are often unable to point to the symptoms as quickly in girls as they can in boys. This even sometimes results in a misdiagnosis or a diagnosis later on in life.
3. MYTH: “Well you don’t seem autistic.”
FACT: This is yet another all-too-common misconception that autistic people deal with on a regular basis.
There is a very wide spectrum of autism ranging from high functioning to lower functioning. Just because someone can function really well and “pass” in society as neurotypical (AKA relatively “normal”), does not make their autism any less real. Diminishing the struggles of individuals with autism is damaging because it often takes a lot of work and dedication to reduce one’s symptom severity.
Even those who are able to “pass” in society still struggle on a daily basis to be perceived as “normal”.
4. MYTH: People with autism have “special gifts.”
FACT: The movie Rain Man (which was way before our time) popularized the idea that people with autism have savant-like mental capacity. This is a myth.
While there are certainly those on the autism spectrum who do have extraordinary mental capacity, that’s the exception, not the rule. Only about one out of every 200 people on the autism spectrum have these genius-like abilities.
Most people on the spectrum have strengths and weaknesses—just like all of us.
5. MYTH: Autism used to be rare, but now everyone seems to have it.
FACT: While it is true that in the past there were less reported cases, that doesn’t necessarily mean there were fewer people on the autism spectrum.
Researchers believe the increase in cases is caused by increased awareness of the disorder as well as viewing autism as a spectrum, rather than a rigid set of traits. In the ’70s and ’80s, those who had Aspergers would often have to see several different doctors in order to get a proper diagnosis. This status quo disproportionately affected those from lower-income families and families of colour.
With greater awareness and visibility of ASD comes a larger number of cases because it’s easier for those who fall on the autism spectrum to get an official diagnosis and the support they need.
It can seem difficult to reshape the narrative around developmental disorders. But, through education and myth-busting, IGNITE hopes to champion the ASD community and encourage healthy conversations.
For more resources on Autism Awareness Month, visit these Canadian resources:
For more on helping those in need, check out these ways to help the world right now from the comfort of home.