Home > Autism Speaks U > 11 Myths About Autism

11 Myths About Autism

You’ve probably heard lots of thoughts and ideas about autism, but we want to make sure you know what is true and what is false. Our Family Services and Science department put together 11 myths about autism to help put an end to any misconceptions. All of these are great for students to share with their classmates. If you’re in college, get involved with Autism Speaks U, a program that supports college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

1. Myth: People with autism don’t want friends.

Truth: If someone in your class has autism, they probably struggle with social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with peers. They might seem shy or unfriendly, but that’s just because he or she is unable communicate their desire for relationships the same way you do.

2. Myth: People with autism can’t feel or express any emotion—happy or sad.

Truth: Autism doesn’t make an individual unable to feel the emotions you feel, it just makes the person communicate emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways.

3. Myth: People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others.

Truth: Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism might not detect sadness based solely on one’s body language or sarcasm in one’s tone of voice. But, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.

4. Myth: People with autism are intellectually disabled.

Truth: Often times, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as limitations. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at math, music or another pursuit.

5. People with autism are just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.

Truth: Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that—knowing one person with autism. His or her capabilities and limitations are no indication of the capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.

6. Myth: People who display qualities that may be typical of a person with autism are just odd and will grow out of it.

Truth: Autism stems from biological conditions that affect brain development and, for many individuals, is a lifelong condition.

7. Myth: People with autism will have autism forever.

Truth: Recent research has shown that children with autism can make enough improvement after intensive early intervention to “test out” of the autism diagnosis. This is more evidence for the importance of addressing autism when the first signs appear.

8. Myth: Autism is just a brain disorder.

Truth: Research has shown that many people with autism also have gastro-intestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and many allergies.

9.  Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting.

Truth: In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved.

10. Myth: The prevalence of autism has been steadily increasing for the last 40 years.

Truth: The rate of autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years. In 1975, an estimated 1 in 1,500 had autism. In 2009, an estimated 1 in 110 had an autism spectrum disorder.

11. Myth: Therapies for people with autism are covered by insurance.

Truth:  Most insurance companies exclude autism from the coverage plan and only half of the 50 states currently require coverage for treatments of autism spectrum disorders.

If you’re interested in raising awareness in college, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

  1. November 21, 2011 at 11:34 am

    This is great. Thank you. My autistic son will be interested to read it.

  2. November 21, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    this gives a great and easily understandable insight on asd’s , i may just ask if a copy of this can be posted in the staffroom of my son’s school

    • November 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      That would be awesome if we could post this in the staffroom in everyone’s school. my 8 yr old does a pretty good job relating, of so I thought, until I started driving by the school and watching him (unknown to him) at recess, and how the other children don’t know how to play with him. I wish they would understand that he is concerned(too much so most of the time) when a child falls and gets hurt, and he just gets confused over how to show it when he giggles. I can see their point, now i want them to see his. You did just give me a wonderful idea, though. His elementary has a “class” all kids attend weekly called character building. It coveres such things as bullying, being a good sport, looking for signs of a neglected or abused friend etc., this sounds like it would fit in that catagory. wish me luck.

      • November 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm

        I am so happy to read your comment! One of the things I did was illustrate anti-bullying posters you can download for free from our non profit that helps kids character development. You can feel free to share the link with others and your school: http://www.edudesigns.org/Stop_Bullying_inSchools.html

  3. November 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to put together such a list, having a girlfriend with an autistic son, this helps me understand him better

    • Myra
      November 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm

      Most definetly, appreciate your girlfriend, because its not an easy life with a child who has autism. There are a lot of demands and requirements that have to be met for that child. Your girlfriend is an awesome person for accepting responsibility for her child. I have a 7yr. old and my marriage was very unsuccesful and this was part of it. So I admire you for researching about her son, it makes me feel happy to hear that. :) Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  4. KNelsen
    November 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    I believe the higher incidence of autism diagnoses directly correlates to more specialists identifying it both at all and when children are much younger. Is there any evidence that autism is simply more prevalent now? I know of people that would have met the criterion in the DSM IV for this disorder, but also read that it wasn’t added until 1984 so they weren’t diagnosed. Instead, they suffered.

    • December 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Agree. Myth 10 does not offer any explanation why prevalence has been increasing, and without any qualifying information it could be interpreted that something disastrous was occurring to cause this rise in prevalence. Scientists have identified some risk factors, such as older parents etc, but the main cause of the rise in prevalence is better recognition, especially of those with high functioning autism such as Asperger’s (which wasn’t added to the DSM until 1994) but also those with low functioning autism who were often incorrectly labelled as having mental retardation in the old days.

  5. Kari N.
    November 21, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    As a mom of a 15 yo on the Spectrum, I am happy that someone puts this stuff out there so the Neurotypicals can see it hopefully understand a bit better. However, I disagree with point #3. My son does not get that hitting causes a person pain. He knows I say Ow and make a mad face and therefore he’s in trouble. But he only wants to express his frustration, he does not care that it hurt me. He also does not get modesty or why other people don’t like it when he streaks or leaves the bathroom door open. Autism is very self-centered. They are just so overwhelmed with all the sensory overload of daily life they can’t begin to empathize with others. Some kids higher on the spectrum, such as an Aspie, do seem to understand others’ physical and emotional feelings. But it does take them longer to learn it.

  6. Cheryl
    November 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Each child on the spectrum is unique-there is no “one size fits all” list of Autism (what it is and isn’t) Every child I have worked with has been totally different than then last.

  7. Cheryl
    November 21, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    than THE last….(but you know that!) ;-)

  8. Noreen
    November 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I think it’s important to tell people that close to 50% our kids are nonverbal and even those that have verbal skills also find times when they are more comfortable being silent or not speaking much. Autistic people struggle their whole life with social skills (and how to read others) and their language skills (which don’t always come easy for them). Also, it’s important to let them know that Regression is a real fear among those diagnosed this decade. Regressing in skills if not practicing but we are talking about basics, eatting, dressing, talking and being social. My child scatters all over the place and regresses. He was one of the children that we DID call in a shot reaction. It’s important to state that yes, many parents out there are seeing reactions to shots and then regression YET no one has come up with an alternate schedule and no one has helped us out!

  9. November 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    This is a great overview that can help explain things to folks who want to know more!

  10. Bethany Dubin
    November 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you,


  11. Lamour Thompson
    November 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    This is a great article. I am a teacher and have worked with several children through the years with autism. I seem to be sensitive to their needs and have even been able to know that a child has autism before being diagnosed. Thank you for reminding us of the uniqueness of the condition itself and for the uniqueness of those who have it. God bless those whose children have this and for those special people who work with those children. I am very thankful for such an informative website.

  12. Patricia Norris
    November 22, 2011 at 12:05 am

    THANK YOU for putting out something that explains so much! I married a man who has 3 children of his own; an older girl and a set of twin boys, one who is austistic. It took me a long time to understand autism and how to deal with his son. Now that I have found your website, I will do a lot of reading and learning. THANK YOU AGAIN.

  13. November 22, 2011 at 6:41 am

    very good article

  14. Debra Bellare
    November 22, 2011 at 8:34 am

    I hope that it is ok if we share your blog. I started a blog group on facebook called Blogging Together for Autism. This is a perfect post for the group.

  15. Pamela Gosnell
    November 22, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Overall, I love this. It is very helpful, but I have one problem with #11. Saying that half of all states require autism insurance is a little misleading. I live in one of the states included in the half that supposedly requires it, when it reality, Kansas only requires the STATE EMPLOYEES’ health plans to cover autism treatments. If you or your spouse are not a state employee, you’re out of luck. The state passed this minimal legislation to get Autism Speaks to count them among those with Autism insurance legislation, and keep the insurance lobby off their backs at the same time.

  16. shocked
    November 22, 2011 at 9:51 am

    “9. Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting.

    Truth: In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved.”

    BUT it still doesn’t stop doctors, neighbors, family members, teachers from still blaming parents and judging their parenting skills.

    I could write an essay re: all the shocking things I’ve heard said:
    1) to me in reference to me (I’ve hear the gamut: from I’m a saint, I’m the best parent ever, I’m the worst parent ever, my stress and anxiety is the CAUSE of my child’s stress and anxiety)
    2) about other parents (same gamut)
    3) Shockingly – ASD parents who are so enamored with their success they cannot see that what they did for their child doesn’t apply to all. They do not realize or appreciate, “that if you know one child with ASD, you know one child with ASD.” These parents are the worst and the most judgemental.
    4) by OTs, PTs, speech paths, ABA providers
    5) by teachers
    6) AND THE WOST by DOCTORS at ASD conferences, “well, it’s true, the patients with the best parents do the best.” YUP – and this is by someone who is HUGE and should know better (but it gets this doctor’s service providing institution off the hook, doesn’t it?). Politics, politics, politics.

  17. November 22, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Great article, I wish schools would use this as part of eduction for the General ed. teachers and incorporate this in abilities awareness weeks.

    thanks from AutismNewsWire providing autism global awareness

  18. Terrianne hibbit
    November 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Amazing thank you.

  19. Judy
    December 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    What a wonderful insight into the world of autism. Addressing the myths about autism is a great way for others to understand more about about the disorder. I have a grandson who has autism. It was obvious to me from a very early age, i.e. I would talk to him, and he wouldn’t look at me or respond. Now, at the age of 5, he is getting physical therapy, occupational therapy as well as psychotherapy, and he is well on his way to be able to function in a quote “NORMAL” unquote society. God bless all of you who devote your time and attention to these people who truly need your empathy and compassion. There is truly a special place for you.

  1. November 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm

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