According to autismspeaks.org, “autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication”. However, the definition is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to autism. Very often, people get fixated on a single example of “autism”, and they think that’s it. In reality, autism can manifest in many forms, and each case is different. Today, we’ll look at 5 autism misconceptions, so that we can all better understand what autism is.
1) Autism Develops As A Single Condition
Many people think that someone has autism, just like they have the flu, or a fever, as a single condition. Actually, autism rarely exists on its own. Usually, there is high co-morbidity between autism and other conditions (disorders), most often attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In fact, those afflicted may display a mixture of symptoms across several disorders.
2) Autism Can Be Cured
Well, this is a pretty common misconception, but autism isn’t something that can be cured. With early diagnosis and intervention especially, conditions can improve vastly, but it isn’t something that you can “get rid of”. Currently, there is no medication to “treat” autism, though therapy can help with accompanying disorders such as social skills, speech or behavioural therapy. The key to progress is early intervention.
3) “They Hear Things”
No, they do not. Autistic children (patients) may show a sudden burst of emotion such as laughing suddenly, and many think that they’re hallucinating or hearing things in their head. That’s schizophrenia, people, not autism. When they show these bursts of emotion, most often they’ve thought of something, and instead of holding it in, they display their emotions. It’s just like when you think of something funny, you don’t just laugh out loud, but they do.
4) Autism Is A Fixed Condition
Autism is actually “autism spectrum disorder”, and that means that the condition of autism can range from mild to severe. It’s not a fixed condition where all who are autistic are the same. Some only have social disabilities, while some have learning disabilities, or some other combination as mentioned in No. 1. There are known labels to determine where each child (patient) is on the spectrum, but sometimes labels are just labels, and each child is still different despite the labels given.
5) Autistic Children Are Known To Be Aggressive
This is a classic case of seeing an example and applying it to all cases. Autistic children can display acts of violence, but there’s always a trigger. And most definitely, not all autistic children will have aggressive tendencies. What’s most important is to identify the triggers that set off emotions, and you’ll begin to see patterns in the children’s behaviour. Just like everyone else, autistic children can be mild-mannered to rambunctious, and that makes them no different from other children!
In Malaysia, slowly but surely we are debunking autism myths, but more needs to be done for awareness. Autism symptoms usually appear around 2-3 years of age, or some could even manifest as early as 18 months. We hope that these misconceptions and our exposure has shed some light on understanding autism!