01 Nov 2014

BY: Louise Hilliar

In this post, I explore ten common myths about autism.

1.  You can be mildly autistic.
In my view, it is a mistake to label someone as being mildly autistic as you either meet the diagnostic criteria, or you don’t. Those with autism vary a great deal in terms of their cognitive functioning, however, hence the term ‘autism spectrum’.

2.  You can tell that someone’s autistic simply by looking at them.
My experience is that you can sometimes guess that someone may be autistic based on the way that they behave or dress, but that it is often difficult to tell that someone is autistic without carrying out an in-depth assessment. This is why it is important that teachers and health care professionals learn about the characteristics of autism and make appropriate referrals.

3.  There are as many females with autism as there are males.
I would agree that there is under-diagnosis of females with autism. This is perhaps because people do not expect females to have autism, because they hold a stereotypical view of autism which relates to the way that it presents in males, and because females are more likely to be able to ‘hide’ their autism. Even so, research carried out in 2009 suggests that autism is found in 1.8% of males and just 0.2% of females.

4.  People with autism don’t have other conditions too.
There is an increasing awareness that people with autism are more likely than those without autism to have other conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. They are also more likely to experience anxiety and depression and many of the clients that I see have struggled with mental health issues for some time before realising that differences related to autism were contributing to their distress.

5.  People with autism aren’t sociable.
People with autism are often sociable and like to be with others. They may find it difficult to know how to behave at times, however, and may need more time to themselves than neurotypical people.

6.  People with autism don’t develop close relationships.
People with autism often have very close relationships with members of their family and often form successful partnerships.

7.  People with autism don’t have empathy for others.
People with autism often do have empathy for others and some describe themselves as being very intuitive. However, it may be the case that some people with autism take longer to pick up on cues enabling them to understand things from another person’s point of view or that they need to know a person well before they understand them. In addition to this, it may be difficult for people with autism to respond as might be expected when they feel empathy.

8.  People with autism don’t make eye-contact.
Those with autism often find eye-to-eye gaze uncomfortable and may avoid it. They frequently learn to make use of eye-contact as they realise that it is a social expectation but may find it difficult to judge how long to hold eye-contact for. Some people with autism look at the area around the eye rather than at the eye itself – a useful strategy.

9.  People with autism can’t develop effective social skills.
Those with autism often learn to interact very effectively with others in a range of contexts. This can be demanding, however, and a day at work, for example, can be very tiring for an individual with autism.

10.  People with autism don’t like sport.
Many of the people that I’ve met with autism don’t like sport. It’s not uncommon for them to have dyspraxia, and the social aspects of sport can present challenges. Even so, I have met some people with autism who love sport and who play a team sport regularly.