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11 Myths About Autism: Debunked

Credit: We Heart It

There’s no doubt that autism is incredibly stigmatized. People treat us as though we’re aliens in a way, and when they find out we’re autistic, we get met with responses such as “Oh, I’m sorry”, and “You don’t look autistic”.

There are lots of myths surrounding autism, only contributing to the stigma. In this article, I’ll be debunking some myths surrounding autism.

Myth 1: Autistic people are either “low-functioning” or “high-functioning”

One thing that really pisses me off is when people use “high functioning” and “low functioning” to describe autistic individuals, and they use these terms as a way to deny support for certain autistic people, and they also use these as a way to poorly treat autistics who need more support.

Truth is, “low-functioning” and “high-functioning” are incredibly ableist labels. The reason why is that every autistic person is different. Autism is a spectrum, nobody is the same. Therefore, all of us function differently, so “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” labels not only are ableist, but they don’t make sense either. When you refer to an autistic person as “high-functioning”, you’re dismissing any struggles that we may deal with when we aren’t around in busy environments. I may look “high-functioning” to someone, but they don’t see some of the struggles that I experience. For example, if I’m not feeling well, my level of functioning changes.

As for referring to someone as “low-functioning”, you’re making it seem like that individual isn’t capable of achieving anything great in life. You’re making it sound like they can’t succeed or do anything. You’re making it sound like they aren’t even a person who deserves to be treated like one. Autistic people who need more support are capable of achieving great things in life, and are capable of being very smart, just like anyone. They just need more support.

Instead of using “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” labels to describe autistic people, try using “low support” and “high support” instead, or just simply say “autistic”.

Myth 2: Autism is a line from “least” to “most” autistic

A common misconception I see is how people treat autism as if it’s a line and seem to have the wrong understanding of it. I even see people use the “spectrum” description of autism in the wrong way.

A spectrum is like a color wheel…not a line.

When people describe autistic individuals, they’ll often say things like they’re “high on the spectrum” or “low on the spectrum”, or “severely autistic”. They’ll also bring in the functioning labels I talked about earlier.

Once again, the autism spectrum isn’t like a line consisting of “slightly autistic” to “severely autistic”, “least autistic” to “most autistic”, and so on. The autism spectrum is like a color wheel, which is what a spectrum is. Let me try to explain this in a little more depth.

See this color wheel, right? Notice how each part of the color wheel is a different color. Imagine that each part of the color wheel represents an autistic trait. Depending on how much you exhibit that trait, the part of the wheel for that trait (example could be the yellow part=special interests) will be colored in a certain degree. Let’s use my yellow=special interests example. If you don’t experience special interests much, but you experience them sometimes, the yellow part of the color wheel will only be half-colored yellow. While this color wheel is a bit of a helpful example, it’s divided in a limited amount of sections, and there’s tons of different autistic traits. Let me show you something else.

This one describes the autism spectrum a bit better. There’s no limiting divided sections, which perfectly represents how there’s so many different autistic traits. If you’re a person who normally sees the autism spectrum as a line, try to see it this way instead.

Myth 3: Autistic people are either geniuses or mentally disabled

Another thing I see too often is how people act like autistics are either fucking reincarnations of Albert Einstein or are intellectually disabled. This, again, is far from the truth. Again, considering autism is a spectrum, every autistic person is different. Some have a normal intellectual level, while some may be considered savants. Just because your autistic friend is an absolute math whiz doesn’t mean every other autistic person is that way. Just because you saw an autistic person who appears intellectually disabled does not mean every autistic person is like that. Not every autistic person is basically a Sheldon Cooper or a Shaun Murphy.

Myth 4: Autistic people are asocial

Another common myth is that autistic people are usually asocial (asocial and antisocial aren’t the same). This is another thing that is far from the truth. Some autistic people may be pretty socially introverted, while some may be social extroverts and enjoy talking to people and hanging out. Some autistic people may be rather shy, while some may be confident socializers. Some autistic people may not talk much, while some may be very chatty. Autism doesn’t have to do with your level of sociability and doesn’t necessarily influence it, just like lots of people are natural social introverts or natural social extroverts (or maybe ambiverts) without being autistic.

Myth 5: Autistic people can’t make eye contact

While a common autistic trait is avoiding eye contact (due to how it can be painful, uncomfortable, etc), a handful of autistics may make too much eye contact, or may just make a regular amount of eye contact.

Myth 6: Autistic people are socially awkward

A handful of autistics can be socially awkward, a handful of autistics can be confident with their social skills. Moving on to the next myth.

Myth 7: Vaccines cause autism

People still use this myth as an anti-vax and ableist argument to this day, but funnily enough, the “autism vaccine” myth was disproven a while ago. The myth was proven to be created with deceptive intent, and the physician who was responsible for generating the myth got his license taken away. The myth was investigated and there was no evidence found that connected vaccines to autism.

Myth 8: Autism is a disease

Autism is not a disease, it’s a neurotype. Lots of people treat autism as a disease, which comes out when people say someone “has autism” instead of “autistic”. Autism literally isn’t some dreadful disease that causes continuous pain and suffering. Again, it’s a neurotype.

Myth 9: Autism is an insult

Lots of people also tend to treat autism as an insult based on their ill-educated knowledge of it. They’ll avoid to refer to someone as autistic because they feel like “autistic” is an insult. While some people do use “autistic” as an insult, it’s not one. We don’t “have” autism. Autism is our identity. We are autistic. Autism is not at all a bad thing, and in fact, it’s something I’m proud to have. Honestly? I consider it a gift, even with the struggles that do come with it.

Myth 10: Autistic people can’t feel empathy

One more autism myth I’ll talk about before finishing up here is how people have a stereotype that autistic people lack empathy. While some do (which isn’t a bad thing, people can lack empathy and still have sympathy and can still be kind people), a handful of autistic people also have hyperempathy. Some may even be hyperempathetic at times and then other times they may not experience as much empathy (I’m this way myself).

Actually, wait. Before I finish up, I’ll clear up just one more myth.

Myth 11: “Asperger’s” is a type of autism

Well, I feel like this explanation’s going to be quite long. First of all, there is no such thing as a “type” of autism. You are autistic and nothing else.

Now, onto the Asperger’s topic. Trigger warning for Nazis and severe ableism ahead.

While it doesn’t happen as much now (but still does to this day), people used to diagnose autistic individuals with something known as “Asperger’s”, and considered it a type of autism. Basically, it was a separate diagnosis for “high-functioning” autism. People still see Asperger’s as a type of autism to this day, but in reality, it’s just autism. Eventually, it was removed as an official diagnosis, and was replaced with “Autism Spectrum Disorder”, or “ASD” for short, which is what it’s now known as.

Some people still may not see the harm of the Asperger’s label, which I’m going to explain here. Again, some of this stuff is pretty upsetting, so you may not want to continue if you are easily upset by talk of Nazis and extreme ableism (or ableism in general).

So, Hans Asperger was a psychiatrist from Vienna, who was known to work with Nazis during the Nazi regime. Officials deemed Asperger a supporter of the regime and its racial policies, and he was also responsible for sending tons of children to their death at Vienna’s death center, known as Spiegelgrund. These children were sent to their death depending on what they were diagnosed with. Asperger had adopted the term “autistic psychopathy” to describe the kind of condition he was researching, and had developed his own “range” of autism. Those with “autistic psychopathy” (or now known as Asperger Syndrome) would be favored by Asperger. They would be taught “social integration”, and would even be recognized for the abilities they displayed. On the other hand, those diagnosed as autistic would be sent to their deaths in Spiegelgrund.

At first, Asperger was against the classification of children, but eventually, in 1938, he came up with his own diagnosis of social detachment, which (as mentioned previously), was called “autistic psychopathy”. Asperger portrayed those with “autistic psychopathy” as sadistic and intelligent individuals, who displayed “autistic acts of malice”. Asperger also warned that those on the “less favorable” part of his autism range (the “less favorable” were basically those diagnosed as autistic instead of with “autistic psychopathy”) would grow up to roam the streets, “grotesque” and “dilapidated”. Those who were killed at Spiegelgrund had their brains removed and kept for research. Over 400 children’s brains were kept in Spiegelgrund’s cellar.

Therefore, “Asperger’s” is a harmful label, even if to some people diagnosed with it, it doesn’t seem harmful. What breaks my heart is how some people diagnosed with Asperger’s still choose to go by that label, even expressing hesitance at considering themselves autistic. For those who are like that, there’s nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to being autistic. Autism and Asperger’s aren’t different, and are really the same, except Asperger’s is a more limiting label, while ASD shows that autism is a spectrum, consisting of all sorts of traits.




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JT Elder

Neurodivergent music nerd (and nerd in general) who enjoys writing about all sorts of stuff pertaining to my interests. INTP. Any pronouns (he/they preferred).