The idea that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting and that children are going to grow according to a mould is a very old school approach. Society today lends itself towards critical thinkers, problem solvers, creative play based learners, all thriving in the classroom. Education is opening up more and more to individualised learning, and society is slowly getting better at seeing what people can do rather than what they can’t. This is, however, until the label of autism is used.
There are so many misconceptions around autism that really need to be left in the past. With more and more information becoming accessible about autism, it hasn’t completely removed stigma and stereotypes. In fact, the information we are inundated with has led to some confusion around myths and facts about autism. Therefore, when parents find out their child is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, it sounds a lot worse than what it is.
About 1 in 88 children have autism spectrum disorder today. Understandably, an autism diagnosis does trigger anxiety and raise a lot of questions for parents. Unfortunately, most of these questions tend to focus on the negatives of the disorder and what their child will no longer be able to do. The first thing that needs to change in the perception of autism is this.
Once all the misconceptions are ironed out and autism is understood more, it becomes apparent that an autistic child is just as capable as anyone else. They will thrive in their own way and this needs to be celebrated. These are 15 common things that are still wrong with our understanding of autism, not things that are wrong with autistic children themselves.
15He'll Never Be Hugged
Another classic trait that is often over-exaggerated of children with autism is a lack of physical affection. This isn’t entirely true. Autistic children are simply more selective about who they offer their affection to, especially when it comes to hugging.
One thing to be aware of with an autistic child is that physical affection may not come naturally. Typically, it is an innate reaction, but children with autism will need to learn the behaviour. This means that earning a hug from your autistic child will just take a little extra work, but the result will be entirely worthwhile.
Children with autism are just as capable of feeling love and emotions. They just need more assistance in how to express these emotions and show their feelings. For example, having words, feelings, and actions associated together will help autistic kids express themselves. The younger you start teaching your autistic child how to show their feelings, the more natural it will become for them.
14Autism Is So Much More Common Today
First things first, let’s just acknowledge that autism has been around for a while now. Autism is becoming a more commonly diagnosed disorder, but that is simply because we are getting better at recognising it. Autism was actually first described by a scientist named Leo Kranner back in 1943. The earliest description of a child with autistic behaviours dates back to 1799.
Often you will hear someone in their 40s or 50s say that there were no autistic kids around when they were at school. Well, there probably were. But those children were probably just categorised as ‘weird’ or ‘strange’, ignored in the playground, and their knowledge and talents overlooked. This is because autism wasn’t understood.
While there is a rise in children with autism, it is far from an epidemic. Some behaviours are being mistaken for autism and there are many misdiagnoses. Before any diagnoses takes place, a child needs to be thoroughly understood for who they are.
13I Shouldn't Have Vaccinated My Baby
A very common conspiracy theory floating around at the moment is related to the link between autism and baby vaccinations. However, there is little proof behind this and has pretty much been blown out of proportion.
This theory made its way into mainstream society thanks to a 1998 study exploring the connection between vaccines and autism. The study has since been retracted, but the paranoia has not. There is little to no scientific evidence no to back this notion.
The basic fact is that autism is related to behaviours. These behaviours manifest before the time of vaccinations, even if they aren’t associated with autism yet. The vaccinations have no affect on how these behaviours are going to develop with the child. It is much better to vaccinate children and have their immune systems protected, and let the autism transpire if its already there. A happy and healthy life is the outcome of this scenario.
12Autistic Children Just Aren't As Happy
As mentioned earlier, autistic children are perfectly capable of expressing their emotions. This means that they process things that make them happy, sad, frustrated, ecstatic, just like any other child. Because children with autism express these emotions a little unconventionally, they are often thought of as not being as happy as other kids.
For example, if 3 children are playing together in a kindergarten playground, and 2 of those children are interacting together in a game, but the third is digging in the sandpit on their own, it can be easy to think that that third child isn’t as happy. However, if that child has autism, he will be entirely content playing on his own and entering his own world. Arguably, he may even be happier than the other 2 children playing together.
Another important thing to remember is that happiness levels come in waves and is not constant, for everyone no matter what age or diagnosis they have. Happiness is measured individually, for those with or without autism.
11Schools Are Actually Doing A Lot To Help Autistic Children
Autism can become a blame game at times. First of all, it’s bad parenting making it worse. Then it’s schools not treating the kids right and teachers not been able to handle autistic behaviours and meltdowns. Well, there are actually amazing leaps and bounds been made in schools in terms of integrating children with autism.
Being a teacher is an extremely demanding and difficult profession. Not only does one single teacher manage at least 25 little individual and teaches them life skills as well as information they need, teachers also have to manage behaviours of children with autism and many other behaviours and disorders.
There is much progress been made in schools particularly relating to bullying issues surrounding autism. The more support schools and teachers receive worldwide in tackling this issue, the easier it will become for autistic kids to attend mainstream school with a positive experience. This is all part of celebrating the differences and diversity amongst school children.
10If I Change My Child's Diet, He Will Be Cured
Many studies have found a correlation between what children eat and the prevalence of autism. First things first, autism is not something that can be ‘cured’. It can be managed, understood, respected, and handled in a positive way to the point where someone with autism can interact regularly in society. But it will not necessarily be cured.
These fad diets and vitamin binges that many parents put their autistic kids on are because of the notion that they can remove mercury from the body and their diagnoses on the spectrum will go away.
The only thing to be wary of with the diet of a child who has autism is the types of food they eat. Autistic kids are highly sensitive to taste, flavour, and texture. There are certain foods that send out a sensory reaction which can trigger an episode in autistic kids. You will quickly realise what foods to avoid in your child’s diet if they have autism!
9That Autistic Child Must Have Bad Parents
When it comes to autism, there are no bad parents and there are no bad kids. That needs to be established, understood, and accepted by society much faster than it is at the moment. During the 1950s, where many societal misunderstandings stem from, it was thought that emotionally distant and cold parents caused autism in their children.
Autism actually has nothing to do with parenting. It is something that manifests in a child, just as any other pattern of behaviour does. Blaming parents for autistic behaviours is both unhelpful and hurtful. Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder and we still have much to learn about it. The more parents of autistic kids feel supported and welcomed in society, the more we can learn about this disorder. Parents of children with autism are handling the challenges of parenting in a unique way and implementing strategies other parents wouldn’t have to consider. They deserve a medal, not scolding.
8Autism Is Genetic
Another key misconception and misunderstanding with autism is that it is a genetic disease. Rather, it is a neurodevelopment disorder. This is something that affects the brain. The brain is something that is made up of 1,000 different genetic changes. All these changes affect how the brain communications, how the cells develop, and how the chemicals are released. All of this plays a role in mood, happiness, and social interactions – the challenges affected with autism.
So, somewhere amongst those 1,000 genetic changes that the brain undergoes is the cause and explanation behind autism. Good luck targeting the exact reason! This is why we still have so far to go in autism research, explanation, and understanding.
What’s more, autism is just as likely to manifest in a child who’s parents are no where near a spectrum diagnose. Right now, since it isn’t a genetic thing, there is little findings on how to prevent it. Rather, just like with any child that you’re given, you just have to learn to manage their behaviours
7At Least My Child Will Have A 'Special Gift'
Thanks to Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, society thinks that every person with autism is highly gifted and has a special skill. Well, it may not exactly be counting cards, but it is true that autistic kids are special. A bit like how all other kids are special.
Every child has something to offer the world through their actions, behaviours, and perceptions. Children with autism often fixate on a topic that they find interesting and quickly become mini experts on this topic. For instance, it is common for autistic children to find a strong interest in trains, bugs, or outer space. Because of how their brains are wired, autistic children are excellent at retaining information and rattling out intriguing facts at the drop of a hat.
These interest areas are something you should pursue with your autistic child. It is a highly impressive skill and excellent for cognitive development. However, this topic can be fixated upon so strongly that other things are neglected. This is where implementing strategies on prioritising time with your autistic child comes into play.
6My Autistic Child Won't Have Any Friends
There is an assumption, largely thanks to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory who is highly likely autistic, that children with autism have trouble socialising and will never be able to relate to anyone. It is certainly true that social difficulties and anxieties are a trait widely associated with autism, but it isn’t a blanket rule. Moreover, it certainly won’t spell the end of your child’s social life.
Children with autism are still highly capable of forming social connections. They may do it in different ways to other kids and they may need prompting with social cues, but they are very likely to find their friend out there somewhere. You might just need a bit of patience when your child is socialising and avoid pressuring them, but it will happen naturally. Always remember to praise and celebrate when your autistic child uses the correct social cues in different settings – this is a big deal!
5Oh, That's The Autistic Child
As with anything that is derogatory and negative in society, it is much to do with the language associated with it. This is true for the negative misconceptions we still have about autism and a reason why we are still getting things wrong about autism.
First and foremost, autism shouldn’t be a definitive label. Children have autism, yes. But they also have other qualities, personality traits, and characteristics that need to be explored and celebrated. Autism isn’t an excuse for incorrect behaviour, nor is it synonymous with always acting in the incorrect way.
The way we think about autistic kids needs to change. For example, if you have a sister who suffers from asthma, you don’t typically introduce her as ‘my asthmatic sister’. So why do we still find kids being introduced as ‘my autistic brother’ or ‘my friend with autism’. Rather, we should start considering saying ‘this is Tom, he’s really good at painting and loves playing computer games. He’s lots of fun to be around. He has autism, but that’s ok.’
4I Won't Be A Happy Parent
Once the diagnosis of a child has been laid out on the autism spectrum, many negative and bad thoughts start flooding in. However, just as children with autism are perfectly capable of experiencing happiness in their life, so are their parents.
Parenting, in general terms, is a difficult experience. It involves a lot of emotional turmoil and struggles in figuring out your own life, as well as that of your life. However, pretty much every parent out there will say it is the most rewarding and worthwhile thing they’ve ever done. The same goes for parents of children with autism.
There will be more challenges, but there will also be more rewards. There will be more work in teaching social cues, but there will be greater pride in the outcome. There will be more tears, but they will be followed with more happiness than you could ever imagine. When an autistic child learns, achieves, and celebrates something, you get to be there for the intense happiness shared from them that is truly infectious. That is a gift within itself.
3Autism Means Mental Health Issues
For far too long, autism has been misinterpreted as a mental health issue. Moreover, mental health issues are wrongly intertwined with intellectual disabilities. These are all three entirely separate categories. Mental health issues refers to the presence of negative thoughts that control behaviours, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar. Intellectual disabilities are complex and need to be understood in their own right in much more detail as they can be genetic, an affect from a traumatic birth, or acquired through injury.
Lumping autism, mental health, and intellectual disabilities just confuses everything so much more and takes a backwards step in dealing with these three things in society. Autism is related to the neurodevelopment of someone and is related to physical behaviours due to cognitive processing issues. Someone with autism can have an IQ in the normal to high range and may excel in a chosen field. Autism is a spectrum so there is a drastic range of how people are affected.
2My Child Has Autism And Will Be Violent
There are many traits that are readily associated with autism without understanding. These are things such as flapping arms, lack of eye contact, and violent behaviours. It is important to remember that children with autism are not inherently violent. Rather, if they do have a violent episode, it is because they are exhibiting a behaviour and trying to communicate something.
Because autism directly affects how children communicate with and process society, the environment, and the world around them, they develop different coping strategies. For someone with regular neurodevelopment, sometimes something just becomes too much.
For example, a child without autism might become extremely tired and burst out in tears or a tantrum. This is their way of expressing how they are processing a certain emotion. Meanwhile, a child with autism might have trouble processing certain sensory things, such as nosies. Therefore, if they hear a noise that they can’t process, it can trigger a reaction. This reaction may be a violent. It is a behaviour in response to a sensory process and it can be managed. It doesn’t mean autism equates to violence.
1Therapy Isn't Working For My Autistic Child
Now, there is something very important that needs to be recognised about therapy. That is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and therapy certainly doesn’t work across the board. Also, therapy will not cure autism, because it can’t be cured.
Therapy for autism is complex. There are many different behavioural, speech, physical, and educational therapies that are available for autism. However, each therapy approach within certain disciplines needs to be flexible because they need to adapt to the individual child. Basically, no two autistic children are going to benefit from the exact same therapy. Text books inform therapy practices, but they aren’t going to provide the answers.
Just because one type of therapy doesn’t work for your child, doesn’t mean you should give up. A quality therapist will provide you with insight into what your child needs to manage their autism and refer you in the right direction. It is also pivotal to remember that autism behavioural management strategies won’t be implemented overnight, rather they need time, dedication, persistence, and routine to truly have an effect for your autistic child.
Sources: Autismspeaks.com, Parents.com, Clevelandclinic.org
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