Autism Spectrum Disorder Myths

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 59 US children sits somewhere along the autism spectrum. Despite how relatively common this condition is, it remains quite misunderstood by the general public. One reason is because it took the better part of a century for researchers and behaviorists to even understand what Autism Spectrum Disorder is—and what it isn’t. If your child was recently diagnosed with ASD, make sure you can distinguish the myths from the truth. 

Myth: Kids with ASD are not interested in having friends. 

Some parents with newly diagnosed children may say, “But my son can’t be on the autism spectrum—he’s interested in other kids.” However, the defining characteristic of ASD isn’t a lack of motivation to socialize—it’s a lack of skills needed to socialize appropriately.    

In fact, many children on the spectrum desperately want to make friends, but they don’t know how. They may not know how to respond to a peer showing them a new toy or how to initiate a game of tag with a peer effectively; it may look a little awkward.  They may end up being socially isolated as they get older, but not by choice. With repeated unsuccessful attempts at socializing and making connections, they may stop trying.  This is a critical myth to understand as the parent of a child with ASD. 

Myth: Every person with ASD is a savant. 

While precision, attention to detail, and impressive technological skills are common among people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, genuine “autistic savants,” like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, are rare. According to Advanced Proficiency and Exceptional Ability in Second Languages, only about one in a million people have savant syndrome, and about 30 to 50 percent of these individuals are also diagnosed with ASD. Still, there’s no doubt that people on the autism spectrum see the world differently, which can grant unique skills, talents, and passions if honed correctly. 

Myth: Vaccines cause Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

This myth surfaced in 1998 when a doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a flawed study linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Celebrity moms, such as Jenny McCarthy, openly blamed vaccines for their children’s autism, further perpetuating the myth. 

However, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphiaseveral studies disprove the notion that the MMR vaccine is linked to ASD. Here are some examples: 

  • 1999 study of 498 children with ASD: There is no difference in the prevalence and age at diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in vaccinated and unvaccinated children. 
  • Seven-year study from 1991 to 1998 of over 535,000 children: The risk of autism is the same between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. 
  • Three studies ranging from 1977 to 1995: If one identical twin is diagnosed with ASD, the other is as well 92 percent of the time. The rate is only 10 percent when the twins are fraternal, demonstrating that ASD is genetic and not linked to vaccines. 
  • Comprehensive review of ASD and family home movies compiled in 2006: Children exhibit subtle symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder before reaching one year of age, and therefore, prior to receiving the MMR vaccine. 

Myth: “Fad” treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder are effective. 

Various diets, vitamins, and a heavy metal-removing process called chelation have all been touted as potential treatments for ASD. Howeverto date, these methods have no scientific backing. The best way to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder is with behavioral intervention designed to teach children social and communication skills that help them access their needs, build meaningful relationships, and improve their quality of life 

STAR of CA in Ventura, CA offers the behavioral and psychological services you’re seeking for your child. We can develop an individualized program to facilitate your child’s unique learning style. To learn more about our evidence-based treatments, please contact us at 805.588.8896. 

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