Boy with headphones looks out the window.


8 Things You Should Never Assume About Autism

Jul 27, 2017

As a mother of an autistic child, and especially as a blogger who writes about autism, I run into a lot of myths and misconceptions about autism every single day.

Over the years I have done a lot of reading and lot of research. I particularly enjoy reading articles by autistic adults to gain better insight into their experience. I strongly encourage anyone interested in learning more about autism to do the same. Learn from those who actually know what it is like to be autistic.

While many people are aware of autism and what it is, most people also have some preconceived notions about it that are simply false. These myths, unfortunately, can be quite damaging. There are a few myths that I will not go into here, but here are eight things you should never assume about autism.

Myth #1: You should use person-first language instead of saying autistic

You have probably noticed that I have used the word "autistic" to describe my child. I actually use this phrase and the person-first language ("person with autism") interchangeably on my blog, but prefer to use "autistic" when possible.

This topic of autistic-versus-person-with-autism is controversial in the autism world. Many people get offended when I use the word autistic. However, those people getting offended are usually not autistic people themselves. If you read articles written by autistic people or even have a conversation with an autistic person, then you will find that many of them prefer to call themselves autistic instead of a person with autism. By the way, my favourite blog written by autistic people is Thinking Person's Guide to Autism.

My advice is to talk to the person and find out what language they prefer to use. Then emulate that. But don't get offended the next time you see the word autistic written. It's likely that that author prefers to identify that way and should be respected as such.

For a thorough discussion on this topic from both perspecitves I highly recommend reading Identity-First Language.

Myth #2: She can't be autistic because she's a girl

Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism, but that doesn't necessarily mean that autism is more prevalent in boys. A lot of recent research suggests that many females are getting misdiagnosed or have better coping mechanisms in place, which makes it more difficult for them to obtain an autism diagnosis.

Please don't assume that girls can't have autism because that simply isn't true.

Myth #3: Autistic people are savants and/or have hidden talents

Many people assume that all autistic people are savants or extremely gifted at something. That's not always the case.

Myth #4: Autistic people are non-verbal

It is important to remember that autism is a spectrum and no two individuals will be the same.

There are many autistic people who are non-verbal, but there are also lots who are extremely verbal and loquacious. Then there are many who fall in the middle range. Some may use alternative communication such as an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device, sign language or PECS (picture exchange communication system).

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Myth #5: Because they aren't looking at you, they aren't listening

Eye contact can be quite uncomfortable for a lot of autistic people. However, lots of people assume that since they aren't looking directly at you, they can't be listening to you. That's simply untrue. My son rarely makes eye contact, but he shows he is listening in other subtle ways. I just make sure that I have his attention first either by saying his name or by lightly touching his shoulder.

Myth #6: They flap all the time

When people think of autism, most of the time, an image of a flappy non-verbal kid is what they think of first.

Flapping arms is just one of many ways an autistic person can stim. A stim is a self-stimulating behavior used to self-regulate or calm one's body. We all have stims if you really think about it, whether it's biting your fingernails, tapping your pencil, tapping your feet or twirling your hair.

You will usually see these stims appear when the child is anxious or overwhelmed about something. Take it as a sign that your child is trying their best to self-regulate their body and their emotions. Unless the stim is causing harm, I suggest not discouraging your child from doing the stimming behavior.

Myth #7: Autistic people don't show empathy

I find that the opposite can be true, to be honest. Sometimes they feel too much. I know that's the case for my son!

Myth #8: A person can't be autistic if they're social

I have heard this line so many times. Remember, autism is a spectrum. Some people on that spectrum will be shy and prefer to be alone, while others will be quite social.

What other myths have you heard about autism?

Article Author Dyan Robson
Dyan Robson

Read more from Dyan here.

Married to her high school sweetheart, Dyan is mom to two boys, J and K, who also teaches piano out of her home. On her blog And Next Comes L, Dyan shares her story of raising a child with hyperlexia, hypernumeracy and autism, amongst a variety of sensory activities for kids. You can find out more about their story on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.


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