Autism is one of those words that creates more questions than it answers. With such a broad spectrum of behaviour and traits falling under the ‘Autism Spectrum’, it can seem impossible to grasp exactly what autism is. This isn’t helped by a number of common myths about the condition, which have slipped into general knowledge but are either wildly inaccurate or overly simplistic. Here’s just a few:
- Everyone with High-Functioning Autism is a savant
Many people assume those with high-functioning autism have a ‘one thing’ they’re good at, and are poor at everything else. But according to research, only 0.06% of Autistic people have an extreme talent or genius level gift (other research suggests 10% do, but that’s still a minority). And autism and Savant Syndrome are actually completely different disorders which just happen to occasionally overlap. Autistic people can be talented at many things – and often are.
- Autistic people lack empathy
The latest research suggests that what we think of as ‘empathy’ is actually two totally separate skills – Cognitive Empathy (the ability to understand and predict the behaviour of others) and Affective Empathy (the ability to care about others). While autistic people often struggle with cognitive empathy, research indicates we generally have as much affective empathy as the average person, if not more. Once somebody explains to us what’s wrong, we can empathise.
- Everyone with High-Functioning Autism has Asperger’s Syndrome
Some are diagnosed with PDD-NOS instead, like me – it stands for ‘Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ (catchy name!) and is used for those who don’t quite fit the exact criteria for Asperger’s. People with PDD-NOS often call themselves ‘Autistic’ (again, like me) or ‘ASD’, as it’s an Autism Spectrum Disorder and it’s quicker than saying… well, you know. And in the USA, Asperger’s isn’t even diagnosed anymore! Not to mention the new American disorder, Social Communication Disorder (SCD), which is sort of autism but sort of isn’t… as you can see, the spectrum’s pretty wide and varied!
So if you think autism’s an easy disorder to understand, think again. Even I haven’t totally wrapped my head round it – and I’m autistic! In my upcoming posts I’ll be exploring more myths about the condition, and exposing how and why they’re based on false assumptions.
 ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder – Symptoms’, NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Autistic-spectrum-disorder/Pages/Symptoms.aspx
 ‘How to talk about Autism’, The National Autistic Society, http://www.autism.org.uk/news-and-events/media-centre/how-to-talk-about-autism.aspx
 Darold A. Treffert, ‘The Savant Syndrome: An Extraordinary Condition. A synopsis: Past, Present, Future’, The Royal Society, http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/364/1522/1351.full
 ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, Wisconsin Medical Society, https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/faqs/
 ‘Savant Syndrome 2013 – Myths and Realities’, Wisconsin Medical Society, https://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/professional/savant-syndrome/resources/articles/savant-syndrome-2013-myths-and-realities/
 Pier Jaarsma, ‘Cultivation of Empathy in Individuals with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders’, Taylor Francis Online, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17449642.2013.878514#.VF63BfmsXB0
 ‘Differentiating Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Individuals in Asperger Syndrome’, MPIB, https://www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/concluded-areas/mprg-neurocognition-of-decision-making/decision-making-in-social-contexts/individuals-with-asperger
 ‘PDD-NOS; what’s in a name?’, The National Autistic Society, http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/related-conditions/pervasive-developmental-disorder/pdd-nos-whats-in-a-name.aspx
 Amy S.F. Lutz, ‘You Do Not Have Asperger’s’, Slate, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/05/autism_spectrum_diagnoses_the_dsm_5_eliminates_asperger_s_and_pdd_nos.html
 John M. Grohol, ‘Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder’, Psych Central, http://psychcentral.com/disorders/social-pragmatic-communication-disorder/
 Lisa Jo Rudy, ‘Does your child have Social Communication Disorder?’, About.com, http://autism.about.com/od/diagnosingautism/a/Does-Your-Child-Have-Social-Communication-Disorder.htm