Debunking myths about Autism

Two young people are looking at a phone and talking. The background is coral coloured with white clouds and above the two young people is a speech bubble with a wheel that represents the different traits ofAutism

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Hi, my name is Emma, I’m 20 years old and I’m autistic. This article is about the negative impacts of stereotyping and the common myths I overhear about Autism.  

Stereotypes about Autism

When you think of an autistic person, your mind might go straight to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory; someone who is fascinated by numbers and computers and appears socially awkward towards people.

Alternatively, you may picture your younger cousin throwing a tantrum.

These tend to be the most common stereotypes; however every autistic person presents differently and many of these perceptions are based on myths that need debunking.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths about autistic people…

Top common myths about autism

One of the most common things I hear is, “that person is more autistic than you.” 

Many people may think the spectrum is linear, from more autistic or less autistic, however the spectrum is actually like a wheel. Different autistic people will have strengths and weaknesses in different things, for example, I can get sensory overload and struggle with motor tasks, but I have good language and perception skills!

Another phrase I hear quite often is “girls can’t have autism.”  

This is in fact wrong! Less women are diagnosed with autism, but this could be for several reasons. Firstly, girls tend to be better at ‘masking’ their emotions and behaviours, so during school it can be harder for teachers to notice at an early stage. In addition, many girls can be misdiagnosed with mental health problems; I was misdiagnosed with anxiety for a while, until I was assessed by a specialist and during that time it was difficult as I was not receiving the support I needed.

Lots of people claim: “Everyone is a little autistic.” 

This is something I often hear from members of my wider family. But it’s not true. Although some people may think they have some autistic traits, you are either born with an autistic brain or not. The distinction is the number of traits an autistic person has and how intensely these can influence their life.

Some people believe “the puzzle symbol represents autism.”  

This is in fact wrong and can be very harmful. The puzzle piece symbol is rejected by the community as it symbolises that part of us is ‘missing’ or incomplete, or that we are a ‘puzzle’ that can’t be worked out. This symbol has also historically been used to frame Autism as a disease that needs to be cured. Autism is not an illness, it does not need to be fixed, it is a developmental difference that is unique for each person. You can find out more in this piece by Altogether Autism.

Similarly, some individuals may think that “there is a cure for autism”  

Although there are interventions such as peer support groups or working with a psychologist on ways to navigate through a neurotypical world as an autistic person, there is no special treatment or cure. When I was first diagnosed, I was quite overwhelmed. However, by connecting with other autistic people, I feel less alone and am now able to find ways of coping with certain situations.

Avoid making any assumptions   

I think it is so important not to make any assumptions about an autistic person based on how they may behave or look. Have a conversation with them to see if there are any reasonable adjustments you could put into place, and avoid basing your view off stereotypes you may see in the media.

To find out more and for support for Autism, please read this resource from As I Am and read this inspiring advice for young autistic people, written by autistic adults.

Read Niamh’s article on dating with Autism.

You can get in touch with the team at The Mix for support with this and any other issue.

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Updated on 31-Mar-2022

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