Myths About Autism


Myth: Autism is Mental Retardation

While it is the case that as many as three-fourths of those diagnosed with autism may also be diagnosed with mental retardation it is important to understand these are two different diagnoses.

Many intelligence tests may not fully assess the complete and diverse range of skills a person with autism can display. Any attempt to appreciate an individual’s abilities by interpreting an IQ score may be short sighted.

It is also important to note that a person with autism may display great differences in testing between skill sets. They may show excellent performance in areas such as math but very poor communication skills. This may be referred to as a “saw tooth” pattern of development because if the skill performance is charted on a graph, the performance may very greatly from one subject matter to the next.

In Iowa the IQ score plays an important role in determining if a child or adult can access important funding to support intervention strategies. Many are faced with the challenge of obtaining an IQ score particularly if the individual is attempting to gain access to Medicaid’s community-based services.

It is best to assess the unique strengths and needs of each individual regardless of the person’s IQ score.

Myth: Autism is laziness

Some will jump to the conclusion that just because a person has demonstrated the ability to perform certain tasks that they can always perform those tasks. Some will wrongly assume that the individual is “choosing” not to complete the tasks because he or she is lazy.

This approach fails to recognize that individuals can be strongly influenced by the environment. Sounds, sights, smells and even touch can make it challenging or even painful for a person with autism to focus on a task at hand. There may be additional challenges that make it difficult to complete a task that once appeared to have been mastered.

It is also likely that the individual doesn’t fully understand the meaning behind the task or that the reasons for completing the tasks are unimportant to that individual.

Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting or “refrigerator moms”

Sadly, there is a dark cloud of guilt that hangs over families of individuals with autism. For too many years families were told by professionals that the reason their child with autism displayed poor social skills was because the child failed to receive warm and loving interactions with the parents and particularly the child’s mother. Some parents were even willing to accept blame if it meant that a solution could be found for this devastating disability.

We now understand this is not true — autism is not caused by a failure to properly bond to a parent.

Many parents of children with autism share some common characteristics. They tend to be passionate, driven and focused individuals. It is precisely because of these gifts that these parents have been able to work diligently to create new opportunities for their children.

Due to the hard work and dedication of many parents, there have been great strides forward in the ability to support children with autism. Many of these families were instrumental in starting organizations like The Homestead and creating changes in educational and public assistance programs.

Myth: Autism can be cured

Some children that have been placed “on the spectrum” or given a diagnosis of autism may eventually develop sufficient coping skills to be able to no longer qualify for a diagnosis of autism. In these incidents it is worthy of celebration for that child and the family. Some families attribute these successes to various interventions including diets, medicines or behavioral treatments such as applied behavioral analysis.

In this sense, it may be appropriate to identify that the child is “cured” as they no longer fit the official diagnosis.

However it is difficult to imagine that the fundamental make-up of this child has been altered. A child with a diagnosis of autism will likely always see the world a bit differently than a child without this diagnosis. That is not to say that every child will always require life long supports — only that each individual is unique. We should not rush to judge whether a person will be successful or enjoy life only if they see the world the same way as others.

Contact The Homestead for more information on autism myths and other misconceptions about the disorder.