10 Things Most People Get Wrong About Autism

Published November 9, 2020

Autism is a disability that is often misunderstood. Real life autism is very different than the kind that people learn about on TV or in the movies. These are some ideas people tend to get wrong about autism.

1. Not everyone in the autism community feels that autism is a bad diagnosis to have

People in the autism community have diverse feelings about how autism should be understood. Some of their stances include, but are not limited to, the ideas that:

2. Not everyone wants to distance themselves and their identity from their autism

As the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) reported, some autistic people feel that autism is a positive part of their identity, just as a person’s race or sexual orientation can be a component of someone’s identity. These people may call themselves "autistic people."

However, there are also people in the autism community who prefer to separate their autism from their identity because they feel doing so "emphasizes their humanity," as ASAN put it, or separates someone’s overall personhood from the challenges they may face. These people may prefer to be called "people with autism." When interacting with members of the autism community, one should always ask and use the language that these members prefer.

3. Not everyone in the autism community feels that their autism needs to be cured

There is no cure for autism as of yet. People in the autism community have vastly different takes on whether autism should be cured or not. Some feel that autism causes impairments for which they would like a cure, while others feel that autism is a positive part of their life and identity that requires no cure. Writers Alisa Opar, Simon Baron-Cohen, and John Elder Robison have all provided their own detailed explanations of these opposing schools of thought.

4. Vaccines do not cause autism

The British study that first claimed vaccines are linked to autism has been retracted by the journal in which it was published, The Lancet. According to CNN, the British General Medical Council revoked the head researcher’s license for his "serious professional misconduct" when making the study. This misconduct included his experimentation on children without ethics committee approval and his lying twice about how he found children on which to experiment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphatically stated on their website that "there is no link between vaccines and autism," citing many studies that have disproven such a link. In addition, many people in the autism community find such fears of getting autism to be very offensive.

5. White males are not the only ones who can be autistic/have autism

People of all gender identities, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and other backgrounds can be a part of the autism community, and these identities can affect how someone experiences autism. Riah Person, Kayla Smith, and Lydia X. Z. Brown are brilliant autistic-identifying autism advocates who highlight how the combination of autism and being a person of color, in particular, can change one’s experience with both identities.

6. Not everyone experiences autism the same way

One prominent idea about autism is that it is a spectrum of various levels of support needs and functioning, from "high-functioning," "low-functioning," to other levels in between. Others feel that autism is too multi-faceted to fit into such categories. Either way, it’s a fact that every individual with autism has their own unique set of skills, support needs, and autism traits.

7. The autism population is not incapable of empathy or other emotions

Multiple peer-reviewed journals, such as Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, Brain, and Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience have shown that the autism population does possess empathy. Many non-autistic people who claim that the autism community lacks emotions or empathy do not use these skills to understand how people in the autism community may be hurt or insulted by these claims. This claim also has extremely dangerous implications, as it suggests that the autism population should be considered and treated as less than human.

8. Being autistic/having autism does not make someone violent

There have been a few shootings in which the perpetrator has been said to have autism diagnoses, which has led some to believe that all people in the autism community are violent. It is crucial to highlight that these people had other traits that led them to be violent, and autism was not one of them. Studies have shown that autism does not make people prone to violence (although the study linked denotes ADHD as a risk factor, which should be viewed warily).

The focus on autism specifically as a factor of violence simply reflects society’s autism-phobic perceptions of autism. If non-autistic people were framed with a similar crime, the act would be considered a reflection of the murderer as an individual, not as an indictment of the entire marginalized group to which they belong. This myth stems from anti-disability bigotry and non-autistic people’s fear of a condition they do not understand. If used wrongly, those fears could incite violence against the autism community.

9. People in the autism community are capable of having relationships

Many people in the autism community can form happy, healthy relationships. They can also explore their sexuality if they so choose, just like their non-autistic peers. Novel The Kiss Quotient by autistic author Helen Hoang is a fantastic media representation of how women in the autism community can love and be loved, as well as desire and be desired.

10. The autism community deserves to be accepted and respected

No matter what people in the autism community’s different stances on various issues are, it’s safe to say that everyone in the community wants to experience more support, appreciation, and inclusion with and from the non-autistic population. People in the autism community need room to reach their best potential and quality of life. This is a basic desire that everyone shares, regardless of their abilities.

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