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5 Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder

Myth is often a foundational aspect for societies to attribute meaning to the unexplainable. A story or an observation is passed down from person to person until its origins or merits can be left unremembered and unquestioned.

Joseph Campbell, an American writer who focused primarily on mythology and its relationship to the human experience, said, “The myth does not point to a fact; the myth points beyond facts to something that informs the fact.”

Keeping Campbell’s statement in mind, one could easily look at the slew of myths related to autism spectrum disorder and see the danger in accepting a myth as fact. Keep reading to learn about 5 myths about autism spectrum disorder and how they’ve been debunked.

Myth 1: Vaccines Cause Autism 

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, and his colleagues conducted a study that claimed that eight children began showing symptoms of ASD within a month of receiving the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The researchers claimed that the vaccine caused intestinal inflammation that then affected the development of the brain and led to ASD.

The study was soon retracted for scientific misconduct based on fraudulence and data misrepresentation. Stanley Plotkin, Jeffrey S. Gerber, and Paul A. Offit in Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses break down how the study was proven false.

  • The self-referred cohort did not include control subjects, which precluded the authors from determining whether the occurrence of autism following the receipt of the MMR vaccine was causal or coincidental.

  • Endoscopic or neuropsychological assessments were not blind, and data were not collected systematically or completely.

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms did not predate autism in several children, which is inconsistent with the notion that intestinal inflammation facilitated bloodstream invasion of encephalopathic peptides.

  • The measles, mumps, or rubella vaccine viruses have not been found to cause chronic intestinal inflammation or loss of intestinal barrier function.

  • Putative encephalopathic peptides traveling from the intestine to the brain have never been identified.

A year later, Brent Taylor et al. conducted research to further disprove the connection between the MMR vaccine and the onset of ASD in children.  They could “not find a causal association between the MMR vaccine and autism. If such an association occurs, it is so rare that it could not be identified in this large regional sample.”

Other research was conducted by governmental organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), leading them to explicitly state that vaccines do not cause autism. 

Myth 2: Children With ASD Can’t Make Friends 

Although making friends can be challenging for anyone – children with ASD shouldn’t give up on building new relationships with others. Some tips that children with ASD can consider when trying to make friends include:

  • Learning how to better manage social anxiety

  • Mastering social skills

  • Getting involved in activities and hobbies

  • Using resources to maximize engagement

  • Feeling good about making quality friends (even if it’s only one or two of them)

Read our blog to read more about how a child with ASD can learn how to make friends.

Myth 3: Autism Is Curable

There is no cure for autism. Notions of how one can define autism have shifted from a concrete biomedical diagnosis to an individualized neurological difference that can often be placed on an evolving spectrum.

Nancy Bagatell, in an article titled From Cure to Community: Transforming Notions of Autism, explains that “The discourse of the autism community provides an interpretation of what autism is that is in most ways a direct contrast to the biomedical interpretation. Autism is seen as a neurological ‘difference,’ not a disease or illness.”

Often though, it may be hard for children with ASD to live fulfilling and independent lives. To help them, they can start receiving Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy.

ABA therapy focuses on developing and teaching specific behaviors based on a careful assessment that follows the antecedent-behavioral consequence model. This form of treatment breaks down skills and processes into bite-sized steps that are easy to understand.

No two children with autism will have the exact same behavior and treatment goals. Goals are determined by the child’s age, developmental milestones, ability to communicate, and much more. But there are some key behaviors that are commonly addressed with ABA therapy, including bettering communication, reducing maladaptive behaviors, and gaining independence.

Myth 4: The Prevalence of Autism Is Growing Rapidly 

Data from the CDC shows that the rate of ASD in children in the United States over the last 22 years has risen from 1 in 150 to 1 in 48 children. Although these numbers are staggering, there may be much more to why this data has changed in the way that it has.

Tony Charman, in The Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders Recent Evidence and Future Challenges, writes that “increased recognition, the broadening of the diagnostic concept over time, and methodological differences across studies may account for most or all of the apparent increase in prevalence, although this cannot be qualified.”

With better diagnostic tools and a continuing shift in how we define what autism is, an increase in autism diagnoses was bound to follow. Although the numbers may appear higher, people who were once unable to receive treatment because of the then narrow definition of what autism was can now receive quality treatment options and lead more fulfilling lives.

Do you have a child diagnosed with autism and considering treatment options? Fill out an autism therapy assessment form and find out if your child is eligible for ABA therapy with Applied ABC.

Myth 5: All Children With Autism Have Learning Disabilities

An autism diagnosis is unique to each individual. Many children with autism may struggle with verbal communication or take a long time to process information, while others have little to no trouble with learning but struggle in social situations.

When it comes to having a learning disability, it solely depends on the individual diagnosed with autism. If they do struggle with learning, receiving ABA therapy may give them the support and resources they need to grow and develop.

Do you have or know a child with autism that is nonverbal, and you are unsure how to communicate with them? Read our blog to find out more about what nonverbal communication is and how ABA therapy can help parents communicate with a nonverbal child with ASD.

Our Dedication to Parents at Applied ABC

At Applied ABC, we encourage parents to be involved and play an active role in their child’s health and development – even when some conversations may be difficult or controversial, your opinion and beliefs are always valued.

Sources Cited

Bagatell, Nancy. From Cure to Community: Transforming Notions of Autism

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism and Vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder

Charman, Tony. The Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders Recent Evidence and Future Challenges

Plotkin, Stanley; Gerber, Jeffrey; Offit, Paul. Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses

Taylor, Brent. Autism and Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine: No Epidemiological Evidence for a Causal Association

The World Health Organization. Autism

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