by Thaashida L. Hutton, M.S., CCC-SLP
There are many misconceptions about autism. Many people
believe that if a trend or characteristic is common in children with
autism, that it must be a diagnosing factor of the disorder. However,
every case is unique, and the presence or absence of a trend or
characteristic is not in itself a defining factor. Below are ten common
misconceptions and realities about autism:
Myth: All children with autism are nonverbal, will never talk, or could
talk if they wanted to.
Reality: Many children with autism do improve their verbal skills, often
through interventions such as speech-language therapy. In addition, talking is only one way of
communicating. With early intervention and identification, these children can develop other
functional ways of communicating. They can supplement their lack of or reduced verbal skills with
pictures, alternative/augmentative communication devices, computers, and/or sign language
(South Carolina Autism Society, n.d., ¶ 3).
Myth: All children with autism have intellectual disabilities.
Reality: It is foolish to assume that children with autism who have difficulty communicating have an
intellectual disabilities. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.,
(1994) mental retardation is characterized "by significantly subaverage intellectual functioning (an
IQ of about 70 or below)" (p.41); whereas the diagnostic criteria for autism looks at six or more
items in impairment, including lack of spoken language, reduced social interaction, and lack of
emotion—there is no specific reference to IQ (p.75). However, some children with autism may
have some degree of mental retardation.
Myth: All children with autism are "geniuses," have a gift or talent, or are intelligent.
Reality: Children with autism may have a varied range of IQ scores. Some children with autism
may exhibit extraordinary skills such as remembering a wide range of dates and events, adding
large numbers without a calculator, or playing Bach and Beethoven on the piano by age three
(Sicile-Kira, 2004, p.3). However, these same children may have difficulty with change, new
routines, and maintaining a conversation. Just like everyone else, children with autism have their
strengths and weaknesses.
Myth: Children with autism cannot learn.
Reality: Figuring out how children with autism learn is often a challenge. Some are visual learners.
Others learn by physical performance. And others learn mostly by listening. When given support
and an appropriate teaching style, many children with autism can learn.
Myth: Children with autism do not make eye contact.
Reality: Contrary to popular belief, many children with autism do make
eye contact. However, it may be less frequent and more of a visual
gesture than a way to communicate intent (Autism Society of America,
n.d., ¶ 6).
Myth: Children who demonstrate excessive disruptive behaviors, such
as having tantrums, hitting, and throwing items, have autism (East
Tennessee State University, n.d., ¶ 1).
Reality: The disruptive behaviors may or may not be a result of autism.
It is important to look at the reasons why children might behave this
way in addition to any diagnosis.
Myth: Children will "outgrow" autism.
Reality: Autism is not something that can be "outgrown." With effective
treatment, children may show significant progress and improve their ability
to carry out their activities of daily living more functionally.
Myth: Children with autism cannot show affection.
Reality: Just because children may not be able to verbally express feelings does not mean that
they are incapable of conveying emotion. Understanding how children with autism convey
feelings takes patience and hard work (SCAS, n.d., ¶ 4). Once a caregiver/teacher learns and
understands the way(s) children with autism can express emotion, the reward can be priceless.
Myth: All children with autism have sensory issues.
Reality: Many children with autism have sensory issues such as limited physical contact or
repetitive body movements. However, children without autism have sensory deficits as well. The
presence or absence of a sensory component alone cannot diagnose autism.
Myth: Autism can be cured with special diets.
Reality: Many professionals and parents who place children with autism on special diets claim to have seen significant progress. However, there is no conclusive data supporting special diets as a cure.
American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Sicile-Kira, C. (2004). Autism spectrum disorders: The complete guide to understanding autism, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, and other asd’s. Perigee: USA.