Myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a class of neurological conditions present from early childhood and is often identified through difficulty communicating, using language and understanding abstract concepts. The organization Autism Speaks says that an estimated one out of 42 boys and one in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Autism is now diagnosed in roughly one out of every 68 children in Canada, and has become the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in that country.

ASD is estimated to affect tens of millions of people worldwide. But even though ASD is widely recognized, studied and discussed, myths and misconceptions about the disorder continue to circulate. Shedding light on how ASD can help caregivers, peers and anyone who routinely interacts with individuals who fall on the spectrum.

ASD is not a single disorder

Although autism and ASD are often used interchangeably, these names do not define one specific disorder. ASD is now an umbrella term that includes autism, Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Rett syndrome, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, 5th edition (DSM-5) revised in 2013. ASD is often perceived through communication deficits that can include misinterpreted or nonverbal interactions. Individuals also may have challenges in bonding/friendship development.

People with ASD can understand and express emotion

Although communication troubles may be present, those with ASD can and do feel emotions. But they may not be able to express these emotions the same way as others do. Also, just because someone has ASD doesn’t mean he or she is unable to understand the emotions of others. Rather, the person may need firm and direct indications of how another person is feeling to understand. Reading body language or tone of voice alone may be inadequate to someone with ASD. School-aged children can learn from this, recognizing that someone with ASD may want to have friends and socialize, but he or she may not know how to facilitate these engagements.

ASD does not produce carbon-copy symptoms

Characteristics of ASD can vary widely from person to person. One person’s limitations may not be present in another.

ASD is not just a children’s disease

There is no cure for ASD, and symptoms may not be reversible, which means that autism is a lifelong condition. Children who are diagnosed will grow into young people and adults with autism. Many treatments and therapies are geared toward early intervention, but adults can benefit from continued work as well. Adults with ASD can be successful and live independent lives.

Autism spectrum disorder is more prevalent than ever. However, despite the recognition of ASD, many people do not understand the nuances involved with a diagnosis.

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