Joanna Cushley, specialist speech and language therapist at Kingsbridge Private Hospital, dispels the myths about the condition
Autism is becoming more of a familiar term in our society. So much so, that it can be hard to distinguish between what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to understanding autism. Here are some common misunderstandings about autism and the reality behind them.
In the late 1990s, a research article was published that drew a proposed link between vaccines and autism. This caused a worldwide frenzy, but it was later proven to be inaccurate by not measuring up to scientific standards. There have been over a dozen studies carried out and none of them have found any evidence to suggest a link between vaccines and autism.
There is no connection between parenting styles and autism. Autism is a neurological and developmental condition. This means that it is present from birth, but it only usually begins to show itself in early childhood when development may start to differ from other children of the same age. On other occasions, it may not become obvious until the child is much older. There is potentially a genetic element to autism, and while parenting styles can help to support the traits, they cannot cause it.
Autism is not a disease or an illness and cannot be ‘cured’ or treated with medicine. Autism is a neuro-developmental condition which is life-long and something that you are born with. With the aid of therapy and professional intervention, people with autism can live healthy, independent and successful lives.
Autism is a spectrum, meaning that no two people are the same and everybody is different. One of the characteristics of autism is having some degree of difficulty with social communication, which can range from mild to severe. Research shows that up to 40% of children with autism may be non-verbal. But communication is more than just words and there are alternative methods of communication that can be implemented for these children through speech and language therapy approaches, such as communicating through the use of gestures and symbols.
Individuals with autism do feel emotion, but they may have difficulty in expressing and communicating their emotion in the typical way. Making and maintaining eye contact can be challenging for individuals with autism and this can lead to the impression that they are not responding when they are spoken to. But they are, they’re just responding differently and in their own way.
Autism is not an intellectual disability. As it is a spectrum, there is a wide range of skills and abilities in individuals with autism. Everybody has the capability to learn to the best of their ability. Some individuals may just need a little extra support to achieve their academic potential.
Many people with autism secure very good jobs. One trait of autism is an intense interest in a certain topic. When channelled over time, this interest can result in excellent opportunities and accomplishments. There are many organisations and charities that support individuals with autism in finding sustainable employment.
Making friends isn’t always easy. A common characteristic of autism is challenges with social interaction skills. This means that these children in particular may have difficulty building friendships as they need support to develop their social skills. This includes making and maintaining relationships, as well as conversation. This does not mean that individuals with autism don’t want to have friends.
They may just require some support and encouragement to develop their social interaction and communication skills in order to make friends successfully.
A diagnosis of autism is more common in boys than in girls, but it is certainly not exclusively for boys. There are various suggestions and hypotheses as to why this is the case, but as of now, there is no concrete reason determined. One suggestion is that fewer girls receive a diagnosis of autism because the characteristics can be masked and it’s more difficult to identify it in them. Either way, autism affects both girls and boys in the community.
Autism is a lifelong condition and not one that individuals will grow out of. All people are affected in different ways and individual characteristics can change and develop over time. Therapy and professional intervention can help to address the specific needs of individuals with autism to overcome any challenges that they are facing, but it will persist into adulthood.
If you would like to find out more about Joanna’s work, please contact kingsbridgeprivatehospital.com