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10 Biggest Myths About Autism From Moms Who Know

This is the hurdle for parents of kids on the autism spectrum: breaking down the myths that follow their kids everywhere they go.
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Young mother with son enjoying beautiful autumn day
Young mother with son enjoying beautiful autumn day

Written by Jeanne Sager for CafeMom's blog, The Stir.

By now you've probably seen the numbers. One in every 88 kids today is being diagnosed with autism. There are kids with autism on TV shows, kids with autism in the news, kids with autism in your kid's classroom. It's safe to say Americans know that autism exists.

But that doesn't mean they know the first thing about the spectrum disorder. This is the next hurdle for parents of kids on the autism spectrum: breaking down the myths that follow their kids everywhere they go. Think you know better? Test your knowledge with these autism myths:

1. Moms of kids on the spectrum are "Refrigerator Moms." The term comes from the '50s, when there was an assumption that autistic behaviors stem from the "emotional frigidity" of a child's mom, and it's a complete myth. As Erin Mast, committee chair of the Central NY Community of Autism Speaks and mom behind A Million Pieces for Autism, says, "I am NOT a refrigerator mom. I loved my kids from birth and continue to love them today."

2. Kids with autism have no empathy. "This is not the issue," says Shannon Rosa, editor of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism and mom of a boy with autism. "The issue is generally processing social signals and body language. Autistic people are often more empathetic than non-autistics, plus have fewer filters to protect themselves from other people's emotional states."

3. Kids with autism need to be taught to make eye contact. "Um, no!" Rosa says. "Eye contact is physically painful for many autistics. Others can either make eye contact or talk, but not both at the same time. Responses come in many forms, other folks need to learn to respect that. If I ask my son a question, and he responds verbally, that's good enough for me."

4. Kids on the spectrum are just like Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie "Rain Man." "Everyone assumes that all people with autism have savant skills, especially memory-type things," Mast explains. "That is not the case. Like any human being, each person has skills that they are better at than others, but not all have a savant skill."

5. Non-speaking autistics always have an intellectual disability. Not true, says Rosa. "Many autistics communicate by typing, by AAC (alternative and augmentative communication), etc. Having written that, I don't pine away waiting for my mostly non-speaking son to suddenly start typing his thoughts to me. If he did, that would be great (especially for him!). But I love him for who he is right now."

6. Children with autism can't stand to be touched. Not true at all, says Leigh Merryday, mom of a child with autism and blogger at Flappiness Is. Need more proof than that? Just check out the pictures of her hugging little Callum on her blog where she describes him as "quite a friendly and affectionate little guy."

7. There is an autism "epidemic." Sure, the numbers are up, but this is a big no, Rosa says. "First, autism is not a disease. Secondly, due to changes in diagnostic criteria, most of the children diagnosed with autism today would have different diagnoses 20 years ago. If there's any crisis, it is one of underdiagnosis, as that infamous '1 in 88' CDC study revealed."

8. Kids with autism have no sense of humor. These moms will tell you the exact opposite. As Rosa says of son Leo, he "is a gleeful imp."

9. Children with autism don't feel love. Another one that gets under Merryday's skin because it's absolutely untrue. A New York Times feature on a couple -- both with autism -- falling in love did a lot to break down this stigma.

10. Children with autism are mentally retarded. If they're not being labeled savants, it's the exact opposite, Merryday has found. But when researchers took a long, hard look at the long-standing assumption that kids with autism suffer from mental retardation, they found it was far from the truth. Some kids on the spectrum are harder to test than others, but that doesn't mean they are lacking in intelligence.

What autism myths bother you?

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