April marks Autism Awareness Month, and it’s an important opportunity to explain its impact and dispel some misconceptions. By raising public awareness about autism and talking to your friends and family, we can end harmful stereotypes that hurt people with autism and frustrate their loved ones. Here, we debunk some of the most common myths with facts and evidence from the latest research:
- Vaccines have no effect on Autism
According to studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control, there is no association between Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and vaccines. The CDC recognizes that many people still harbor concerns about the causal relationship between the two and has provided further information to debunk this myth. In fact, researchers have taken analyzed Thimerosal, a common vaccine ingredient, to determine any potential link to autism – and didn’t find one. Since 2003, the CDC has funded or conducted nine studies on this ingredient, underscoring evidence that Thimerosal is not a cause of autism.
- People with autism express emotions, sometimes in different ways
Autism does make it difficult for people to express their feelings and emotions, but this doesn’t mean they are unable to do so altogether. Rather, they express emotions in different ways than someone without ASD, to a varying degree depending on that individual’s condition. In some cases, children and adults who struggle with expressing themselves verbally are able to use pictures, sign language, electronic word processors, or speech-generating devices as a means to communicate their feelings or emotions.
- Autism does not affect every person the same way
By definition, autism is a “spectrum condition,” meaning it impacts individuals differently depending on the degree of their developmental disability. The National Institute for Mental Health published in 2015 that Autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and other pervasive developmental disorders are all included within Autism Spectrum Disorder. In addition to displaying differing symptoms, those with ASD may exhibit differing strengths and talents such as heightened intelligence, attention to detail, strong memory, or advanced skills in math, science, music, or art.
- People living with autism are capable of building solid relationships
The Kennedy Kreiger Institute recently published evidence confirming that in a majority of cases, those with ASD want to form relationships, contrary to uninformed assumptions. In fact, they prefer social interaction. This evidence stems from an article by Charlotte Brownlow, Hanna Bertilsdotter Rosqvist, and Lindsay O’Dell that argues that a broader description of friendship accounts for the very real relationships between people with autism and their companions. In other words, while their friendships may look different, people with autism are just as likely to crave social relationships as everyone else.
We know so much more about autism now than we did just a few years ago, and it’s up to all of us to do our part to dispel myths that enable harmful stigmas.