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Myths, Legends and Autism: Fables and Falsehoods about the spectrum

Category: Blogger's Corner, Mental Health, Autism, Belief, myths

Myths, Legends and Autism: Fables and Falsehoods

In my previous posts I’ve discussed common misconceptions about autism; it’s testament to the number of inaccuracies and misinformation out there that I’ve even got enough material for a fifth blog post. But there are still several issues I’ve not yet discussed, such as:

  1. Autism is a disease/mental illness/mental health problem

Though you might not believe it, some people today still believe Autism to be an infectious disease. More commonly, I’ve heard people describe Autism as a mental illness. But it’s not – it’s a neurological developmental disorder (some would say condition)[1]. Autism cannot be cured – so, by definition, it can’t be a disease or illness[2]. However, there is evidence that the extra stress of living with autism can cause and/or exacerbate mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety[3].

  1. Autism is, undoubtedly, an ‘extreme male brain’

While this is a common belief, there’s little factual evidence for it. It’s true that autism, particularly high-functioning autism and Asperger’s, is diagnosed overwhelmingly in men[4]. But this is partly because several girls with autism go undiagnosed[5]; and regardless, many disorders are diagnosed overwhelmingly in men.[6] This includes psychopathy, which is in many ways the total opposite of autism – psychopaths lack Affective Empathy but have a lot of Cognitive Empathy, for example, making them skilled manipulators.[7] So for autism simply to be ‘extreme maleness’ is too simplistic[8]. And a recent study actually suggested that autism is associated with less-gendered brains; though this theory should also be viewed with caution.[9]

  1. Autistic people are unable to change their behaviour

Though autistic people will always find certain things (like appropriate small talk) hard, through practice[10] and adaptation[11]  we can significantly improve their skills in these areas. Some might not want to change, of course – and as long as their behaviour isn’t harming others, that’s absolutely fine. Personally, though, while I’m proud to be autistic and grateful for the benefits it gives me, I’m also keen to work on improving my weaknesses. Being autistic shouldn’t hold me back, or define me as a person.

And if you were hoping that was the end of it, I’m afraid there’s more still to come. But now you’re aware of these myths, I hope your awareness of autism is enhanced and it’ll help you to better understand autistic people.

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