It is necessary to understand Autism for everyone. There are many myths that individuals correlate with Autism and I was happy to shed some light on the facts when it came to Autism Spectrum disorder on this Autism Awareness day, 2018.
Myth #1: Autism is form of mental retardation
Fact: Autism does not equal mental retardation
Mental retardation is a developmental disability that causes sub-average intellectual capabilities in the sufferers. It’s marked by developmental delays and learning disabilities in the person. Autism, on the other hand, is a neurological disorder that impairs the person’s social, communication and behavioural challenges. Some people with autism, like autistic savants, have higher level IQs and are blessed superior intellectual skills. Dr Dutta says, “Terms like retarded are derogatory and should not be used to address anybody with disabilities. Autistic individuals have different capabilities and are differently abled than us.”
Myth #2: All autistic people are geniuses
Fact: Every autistic person is not a genius
In stark contrast to Myth #1, there also exist the belief that autistic individuals have near-genius level IQs. Movies like Rain Man and television shows like Big Bang Theory are responsible for perpetuating the stereotype of the autistic geniuses. That unfortunately may not be true. While some do have high level IQs and superior cognitive abilities, others don’t. “High functioning autistics are individuals with good IQ, and autistic savants are individuals who may have a gift, for example rapid calculation etc. But not every autistic person has these. In fact, one third of autistic people have low or borderline IQ,” sayd Dr Dutta.
Myth #3: Autism is a single condition
Fact: No two people with autism are alike
Most people think that autism is a single condition. It, in fact, is a spectrum disorder where each individual has unique abilities. “Autism is a spectrum disorder. It means it’s not just one diagnosis, but a whole lot of conditions with some core symptoms,” says Dr Dutta. She says that these symptoms may differ for each person on the spectrum and each may face a different type of disability related to social behaviour, communication, language, speech and repetitive activity, etc. “Autism varies from person to person, meaning that on the spectrum, no two persons are alike,” she adds.
Myth #4: Autism can be cured
Fact: There is no cure for autism so far
A lot of hoaxes on the internet lure unsuspecting caregivers into believing that their child’s autism can be cured. But as heart-breaking as it sounds, we don’t have the means to cure autism today. “There is no cure for autism discovered as of now. A lot of individuals fall prey to promises of cure for autism and various treatment modalities. But so far, there is no cure. However, with the right multi-speciality health, autistic individuals can live a better quality of life and be less dependent on others,” says Dr Dutta.
Myth #5 Both men and women are equally susceptible
Fact: Autism affects more men than women
So far, incidence of autism is seen more in men than in women. Some theories state that women are better protected than men are by virtue of their gender. “Over the years, studies and stats have consistently shown that more males are affected than females ( 4:1). Many genetic conditions are linked as well,” says Dr Dutta.
Myth #6: Vaccinations cause autism
Fact: There is no real evidence that suggests vaccination causes autism
Many parents in the west have taken up cudgels against vaccination, saying that certain medicines meant for immunising children is causing autism. Anti-vaxxers, as they are called, are of the opinion that heavy metals like mercury found in vaccinations are responsible for the rising cases of autism in the world and they have refused to get their children vaccinated. So far all we have is a flawed study that reports a link between measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. But the paper was retracted when the flaws in the study were called out. After that, many studies have examined the link between the two but found no hard evidence to conclude that vaccinations cause autism.
MD Psychiatry, DNB Psychiatry, MBBS
Consultant Neuro-Psychiatrist, Therapist and Life Coach