There are tons of myths floating around about autism that are harmful to the autistic community and the people who work with them. Most of these myths stem from misinformation, stereotypes, and lack of knowledge about autism. As neurodivergent advocates, it’s important that we do our part to educate ourselves so that we can counter myths with facts and ensure that autistic individuals feel loved, supported, and empowered to be themselves in any environment.
Let’s dive into some of the most common myths:
1) Myth: Autism is a mental illness.
Fact: Autism is not a mental illness.
Although autism itself isn’t a mental illness, 70% of autistic individuals have anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, according to the Mental Health Foundation. This is why it’s so important to teach autistic youth valuable social-emotional skills that they can use when faced with challenging situations.
2) Myth: Autistic people are unable to feel emotion.
Fact: Autistic people experience a variety of emotions.
Autistic people sometimes interpret, process, and express their emotions in ways that neurotypical people don’t understand, but the contrary is true as well. An autistic person might not realize that their neurotypical friend’s smile means that they’re excited, whereas the neurotypical friend might think their autistic friend isn’t excited because he isn’t smiling. Both people feel the same emotion, but the differences in how they express them lead to miscommunication.
No two people are alike, which is why it’s important to get to know your students, clients, etc., so that you’ll learn the many different ways they experience and express their emotions.
3) Myth: All autistic people have special gifts.
Fact: Autistic people have varying degrees of skills, knowledge, and talents.
Some autistic people excel in certain areas due to certain autistic traits such as enhanced senses, hyperfocus, and pattern recognition. However, it’s inaccurate to assume that all autistic people have these traits.
It’s important that we don’t stereotype groups, even when the stereotype appears to be positive like this one. Positive stereotypes can add unnecessary stress and pressure on autistic people and lead to unrealistic expectations. Instead of labeling an autistic person based on their skills, find ways to empower them and support them as they pursue their interests, regardless of their skill level.
4) Myth: Autism can be cured.
Fact: There is no cure because autism is not an illness or disease.
When people discuss curing autism, they’re usually referring to therapies that teach autistic people how to mask their autistic traits and blend into neurotypical crowds as much as possible.
These therapies can send the message that autistic people should hide who they are to make neurotypical people more comfortable. This belief is damaging and can harm the autistic individual’s self-image, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Fortunately, there are other types of therapies that focus on empowering, supporting, accommodating, and encouraging autistic people to be themselves while still teaching them valuable skills that they need to navigate the world.
5) Myth: Autistic people can’t communicate.
Fact: Autistic people may communicate in different ways.
Many autistic people communicate verbally, but communication goes beyond speaking. While it’s true that some autistic people are nonverbal or selectively speaking, they often use sign language, gestures, writing, and technology to communicate with others. In our SEL video game Ava, Lior is a selectively speaking character who communicates using an AAC device.
If you haven’t noticed, these myths stem from beliefs that all autistic people are the same or that there are different levels of “severity.” These beliefs can result in autistic people not receiving the services and support they need. Instead of treating autistic people like a monolith and making assumptions, it’s important to embrace the diversity within the autistic community and empower autistic people to be themselves.
One way to support your autistic students is to invest in engaging SEL resources, such as Ava by Social Cipher. Ava was built by a neurodivergent team specifically for neurodivergent students. The game immerses players into a safe virtual world where they can learn and practice CASEL competencies like self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills. As students transfer these skills from the game to the classroom, the result is a reduction in behavior incidents and a more positive learning environment.
Interested in getting Ava for your district or therapy center? Schedule a chat with us!