Our goal is to simplify the information gathering and evaluating process. Our approach is to provide multiple perspectives from leading authorities and varies websites on autism related topics. This will provide our readers the opportunity to gather multiple viewpoints from a single location and form the best-educated decisions for their family’s needs.
Disclaimer: The Autism Resource Foundation provides general information to the autism community. The information comes from a variety of sources, and the Autism Resource Foundation does not independently verify any of it, nor does it necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of the Autism Resource Foundation. Nothing on this website should be construed as medical advice. Always consult your doctor regarding the needs of your family.
Source: Achievement Center
Over the years, there have been many myths that have been circulating about autism’s causes, its features, and its outcomes. Some of these things have become mired in controversy, and it is not the intention of this Web site to delve into areas of great debate. However, there are some things said about autism that are simply not true at this point in time, and it is important for parents, teachers, and other interested parties to know when they are being presented with information that is not accurate.
Autism was first diagnosed in the early 1940s by Leo Kanner. (At the same time – and unbeknownst to each other – Hans Asperger was diagnosing children with similar symptoms). At the time, very little was known about the disorder, and it was seen as a psychiatric condition with causation attributed to some type of harm to the psyche of the individuals who had autism. More often than not, parents (particularly mothers) were blamed for their children’s autism. This brings us to our first myth.
Autism Myth #1: Parent and caregiver actions are to blame for autism.
This is simply not true. While all of the causes for autism are not yet definitively known, we know beyond a doubt that autism is a brain-based (not a mind-based) disorder, with genetic factors playing a role. It is the result of physical differences in the way the parts of the brain are “wired,” and in how they communicate or work with each other. There is no type of emotional or psyche-directed trauma that can create autism. While almost any credible professional working in the field today will acknowledge this, the myth still persists in some circles and among some ill-informed clinicians.
The result of this erroneous thinking is that parents (who are already struggling to deal with their child’s disability) are burdened with a sense of guilt and possibly even shame, thinking that they have possibly done something to create their child’s autism. In addition to this, the notion that autism was created by emotional trauma directed toward the child created a generation of families who were reluctant to share their children’s conditions, and therefore didn’t seek help for their children or themselves. This “underground” attitude toward autism practically paralyzed the fields of research concerned with causes and treatments for children with autism for many years, and perhaps is one of the reasons why we do not yet have a full understanding of the disorder at this point in time.
Autism Myth #2: There is a cure for autism.
Currently, there exist many treatment approaches for autism. Some of them (such as Applied Behavior Analysis) have a widely recognized and well-documented base of evidence supporting their use for teaching new skills and for addressing problem behaviors. Others have very little evidence to support their use, but are starting to show promise as more information is gathered.
Additionally, there are several medications that have been shown to be effective in reducing problematic behaviors and in increasing attention to task. Even more interventions have no evidence supporting their use but remain popular anyway. The topic of intervention selection is one that is full of heated debate, and there are proponents of many different approaches.
While LEADERS is committed to providing only services that have a legitimate base of evidence to support their use, it is not our intention to enter this debate on this Web site. However, the following must be stated:
To date, there have been no validated cures for autism. Autism is a brain-based disorder. The interventions that have been shown to be effective have only been effective in addressing some of the symptoms of autism, by teaching new skills or by reducing problematic behavior. Some interventions have been reported to be so successful for some individuals that these individuals no longer meet the diagnostic criteria required to be labeled “autistic.”
However, none of these interventions have been able to change the brain or to create a brain that is no longer one of a person with autism. Until then, no cure exists. Hope can be taken away from two facts, though. First of all, some interventions have been extremely successful in helping some individuals with autism cope with their disorder to the point that it only minimally impairs their ability to function and achieve. And secondly, there are scientists who are making huge strides in understanding the true causes of autism, which may eventually lead to a legitimate cure, perhaps even in the lifetimes of the children being diagnosed today.
Autism Myth #3: Children with autism have to engage in inappropriate behavior.
It is very common for children with autism to engage in inappropriate behavior such as tantrums, aggression, or self-stimulatory behaviors. Because they are so common, most people tend to attribute the reasons for these behaviors to the child’s autism, and therefore believe that these behaviors will always be a part of their children’s lives. It would be more accurate to say that a child’s autism plays a key role in problematic behaviors but not necessarily a direct causative role.
When looking at problematic behavior, the most effective approaches realize that most problem behaviors can be traced back to the communication deficits associated with autism. Problem behaviors usually serve a purpose for the individual with autism to meet a need for which the individual doesn’t have the language skills to express. Usually, problem behaviors serve to gain one of three things for the individual with autism: access to tangible items or preferred activities; some kind of approach, assistance or interaction from another person; and escape from or avoidance of certain types of situations.
Behavior analysts have been extremely effective at reducing or eliminating inappropriate behaviors by developing and implementing procedures that do three different things. The key to lasting behavior change is to render the behavior:
- Ineffective. This means that you should determine what it is that the behavior usually results in, and then make sure that the behavior doesn’t work to serve that purpose any more.
- Inefficient. This means that – while the problem behavior no longer works to serve a purpose for the individual – you have taught an appropriate, easier way for the individual to gain what he or she wants or needs. For example, instead of engaging in tantrum behaviors to get extra time to watch TV, the individual is shown how to ask appropriately, either through speech, sign, or pictures before the problem behavior has a chance to occur.
- Irrelevant. Rendering a behavior irrelevant means doing things ahead of time to diminish the individual’s need or desire to access the things that typically would result in problem behavior. For example, if problem behaviors occur as a result of difficult academic demands being presented, the demands could be presented in such a way that easy tasks are interspersed with difficult ones, making escape less desirable.
(The preceding “Three I’s” were coined by Pamela Wolfe, Ph.D.)
Autism Myth #4: Individuals with autism have greater ability to see, hear, or remember than typically developing people.
This myth is one that persists, more than likely, because of autism’s portrayal in popular culture. Movies such as Rain Man and Molly have done a terrific job to raise the public’s awareness of autism. However, their portrayals of individuals with autism were not representative of most individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
By many popular accounts, people with autism are shown to have abnormal hearing abilities or the ability to remember everything they see or hear with astounding precision. This is not entirely accurate. Individuals with autism have not been shown to have any greater degree of sensory acuity than other people. In other words, their vision and hearing abilities are as diverse as you would find in any random group of individuals. However, their focus might be directed toward things that we simply don’t pay as much attention to such as non-consequential sounds that are faint in the background as opposed to conversations that are happening right in front of them.
Also, a preoccupation with details sometimes leads individuals with autism to focus on less significant parts of an object as opposed to the object as a whole, functional thing. As a result of this difference in focus or attention, it is easy to assume that they are able to see or hear things that others don’t. However, it is usually simply a matter of where they place their attention.