Ten Myths about Autism – Debunked

There are a lot of misconceptions about Autism floating around. Consequently, many people with Autism remain undiagnosed, countless autistics are misunderstood, and millions of dollars are donated to nonprofits who don’t speak for those with Autism.

This is a troubling time for people with Autism (and I speak as one of those Autistics) because the media focuses a considerably large percentage of their Autism coverage on stories told by those who do not even have the condition. I’ve put together a list of only ten misconceptions that have been born out of the lack of an autistic voice in the media.

10. Autism is an epidemic.

Organizations like Autism Speaks and Cure Autism Now are quick to label Autism an epidemic, despite the fact that scientists have found the opposite to be true. For instance, Dr. Roy Grinker, an anthropologist at GWU, whose research was ironically funded by Autism Speaks (needless to say, they’re not too happy), recently published Unstrange Minds, a book that debunks the idea of an “Autism Epidemic.” And he’s not the only scientist who has problems with the those who label it an epidemic.

9. Most Autistics are “low functioning.”

Due to the negative connotations autism gets from the term “low functioning,” the bigger nonprofits like to focus on low functioning autistics because people are more likely to donate to help severely affected people (these same organizations use the statistic of 1 in 150 but they imply that 1 in 150 people are low functioning). However, the most recent studies show that a little less than half of Autistics are low functioning. A lot of autism experts point out that Asperger’s is underdiagnosed, which indicates there’s an even lower percentage of people who would qualify as “low functioning.”

8. Autism can be treated by ________ (insert unapproved treatment here).

This is one of the most troubling fallacies because it’s usually spread around by people who try to take advantage of uneducated parents who will do anything to help their kids. Many of these self proclaimed experts cheat families out of small fortunes and conduct dangerous and highly illegal “treatments” on autistic children with absolutely no improvement in their condition. Throughout history, snake oil opportunists have popped up when scientists couldn’t find a real cure, and this time its no different.

7. Autism is caused by mercury.

This myth is popular among the same snake oil opportunists I just mentioned. Because mercury is a real poison that exists in everything from vaccines to thermometers, it’s easy to convince parents that it causes problems. While high doses of mercury are very dangerous, mercury doesn’t cause autism at any dose. In addition, the amount of mercury in vaccines is not high enough to have any measurable effect. Studies have consistently shown that there is no link between autism and vaccines. This myth of a correlation is especially troubling when real outbreaks have been caused by parents’ fear to vaccinate their children.

6. Nonverbal autistics are severely mentally impaired.

Becase they have trouble communicating with the rest of the world, you may think they’re somehow less intelligent. The opposite is true. Low functioning autistics have impaired communications skills but they are just as smart as your average joe and many are even smarter.

5. Autistics can’t be geniuses.

Actually,there are many historical geniuses who are thought to have had autism (Albert Einstein and Thomas Jefferson, for example). However, I think it’s foolish to use them as evidence when I can merely point to currently living people like Nobel Prize winning economist Vernon Smith and actor Dan Ackroyd who have made public statements about being diagnosed with Autism.

4. We have a pretty good understanding of autism.

Scientists don’t know very much about the brain, much less Autism. Every day, researchers are learning new things about Autism. Regardless, we still have a lot more research to do before we can begin to understand this puzzle.

3. Autistics want to be cured.

Most autistics, in fact, do not want to be cured because they’ve already accepted autism as part of their personality, identity, and lifestyle. You may not understand why anyone would want to be diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, but even homosexuality was listed in the DSM as being a disorder at one point in time.

2. People with Autism are alike.

While you may be quick to use autism to refer to someone’s identity, autistics differ from each other just as much as those without the condition differ from each other.

When my friend Dan and I started Wrong Planet, we were surprised by just how different the members were from one another. We naively thought they’d be exactly like us. Needless to say, Wrong Planet members and autistics come in all shapes, sizes, professions, religions, political affiliations, and nationalities.

1. Autistics are represented by nonprofits like Autism Speaks and Cure Autism Now; donating to these causes helps people with Autism.

Actually, most autistics feel that these nonprofits are doing a disservice to those living with Autism by running campaigns that dehumanize people with the condition and painting an inaccurate picture of what Autism is like.

For example, Autism Speaks, the largest Autism organization in terms of financial capital, has no autistic employees and no board members with the condition. They disallow autistic individuals from speaking at their conferences with the rationale that “it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

While a lot of the research they fund may be conducted by good scientists who are unaware of the organization’s political slant, Autism Speaks’ end-game is establishing prenatal screening. Any good that comes from this research is consequently undermined by the negative messages they send.

There are autistic-run organizations such as Wrong Planet and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network trying to give Autistics more voice in the media. ASAN, for example, recently succeeded in a media campaign criticizing the New York University Child Study Center. The center apologized for and rescinded an advertisement campaign (the Ransom Notes Campaign) that painted Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in an unrealistically negative light.

Also, there are great bloggers out there sending positive messages like Ballastexistenz, The Joy of Autism, Autism Diva, and even About.com.

Article by Wrong Planet founder Alex Plank

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