Myths and Facts about Autistic Children
With increased awareness about autism, you’d think that there would be more understanding about it. Not so. When speaking with parents and educators, I’ve found that old myths die hard. It does make a kind of sense. Yes, there is more awareness that the disorder exists. There is some understanding of common symptoms. But many people go through life without knowing someone up close and personal who is on the autism spectrum. The portrayal of autism we see in movies and television shows is often superficial and incomplete.
Let’s take a look at common misunderstandings and the truth about people on the spectrum.
Myth: Children with autism don’t care about having social relationships.
Fact: Children with autism want very much to have friends. However, they often lack the skills and social awareness to make friends or to maintain friendships. It’s difficult, for example, for people with autism to look people in the eye when talking. In Western cultures, this is often interpreted as a lack of respect. But people with autism find it difficult to process what they are trying to say and what they are observing in another’s face at the same time. In order to stick to their train of thought, they need to “look” inward.
Another symptom that gets in the way of social relationships is their difficulty reading social cues. When talking about something that interests them, they may not notice when another person is bored or irritated or upset so they don’t respond as would normally be expected. They need help to develop those sensitivities and to learn how to respond appropriately.
Myth: Children with autism are savants.
Fact: Yes, some people with autism have a rare, special skill. I’ve known more than one person with autism, for example, who can tell you the day of the week you were born if only given your birth date. Others have the ability to play piano by ear or the ability to learn complex mathematical formulae even though they can’t cross the street safely or decide what is appropriate to wear given the weather. The fact is that only about 10 percent of people with autism have savant skills. The other 90 percent are like the rest of us, with a wide variety of talents and skills.
Myth: Children with autism aren’t emotional.