This Autism Acceptance Week, we’re thrilled to share the powerful insights of our Advisory Board Member and former Vibe student, Grace Lawther, as she breaks down 5 common myths about autism.

I have found that there can be a lot of misinformation out there around autism, and that can be harmful to the way you view autistic people and how you support them. Here, I break down 5 myths about autism that I have heard before.

Myth No. 1: Everyone’s a little autistic. 

No, they’re not. You are either autistic or you’re not. I’ve got to admit, this myth frustrates me a lot. If you say this to an autistic person, it may invalidate their diagnosis.

This myth is based off the idea that autism is a linear spectrum from ‘not autistic’ to ‘very autistic,’ which autistic people are now realising is not true. Instead, it seems to be a spectrum of traits, and how people display those traits. You might be thinking that you have some of these traits, such as being hyper-focused or socially anxious, and that may be your reasoning behind this belief. However, if you look at the autism diagnostic criteria, you must have a certain number of traits in a variety of different areas. Having a couple of autistic traits here and there does not mean you have an autistic brain, just that you sometimes present autistic traits. There is a big difference. 

Myth No. 2: Autism is a mental health condition.

Autism, scientifically speaking, is a neurological difference. This means that our brains are different to non-autistics. A mental health condition, on the other hand, is usually defined as a ‘change in thinking, emotions or behaviour’ leading to ‘distress.’ The key words here being ‘change’ and ‘distress.’ Autism is a lifelong condition, and it does not inherently cause distress. It does also not need any treatment or cure. 

It is important to note, however, that a large proportion of autistic people have mental health conditions. This is not due to their autism, but instead could stem from the pressure to fit in to society, a lack of understanding of those around you, or autistic burnout – for example.

Myth No. 3: Autism is a male condition.

Autism has even been previously described as the extreme male brain, and this led to many believing only boys could be autistic. This has now been proved false as society’s understanding of autism grows. The issue now is the diagnosis. In the past, girls have struggled to get a diagnosis as early as boys. Girls are known to mask their autism at a higher level and are more inclined to fit in with their peers. Furthermore, most research before the 21st century was conducted on males, leaving doctors with a lack of knowledge around autism in girls. A significant number of girls went undiagnosed. In recent years, however, this is beginning to change. The ratio of boys to girls with autism has gone from 10:1, to 4:1, and now it is 3:1. Personally, I am under the opinion that there are just as many autistic girls than boys, because I’ve never seen a valid reason why there would be any difference. 

Myth No. 4: There is an autism epidemic.

I hope you’re not thinking to yourself ‘back in my day, autism wasn’t the thing it is now.’ A lot of people believe that there is an increase in children being born with autism, whether that be because of vaccines, an over sensitive generation, or several invalid explanations. However, this is blatantly not true. 

I would say there are three main explanations for why the number of autism diagnosis are going up, and autistic people are becoming more visible. The first is that in the past, autistic people and those with learning disabilities used to be sent to institutions, as families were told they would not be able to raise them their selves. There was also a stigma around autism and disabled, so families would often not talk about their autistic children openly. Secondly, our society is generally becoming more welcoming and understanding (which is good!). This may be a reason why you think autism is more visible. The stigma I mentioned above has lessened, so you might hear about or see more autistic people when you’re out and about. We’ve got to admit that social media plays a role too. There are lots of autistic advocates and autistic families that are popular on social media. Finally, lots of people used to go undiagnosed because the knowledge around autism was less. So many adults are diagnosed today, and they have been autistic their whole lives it just wasn’t recognised when they were younger.

Myth No. 5: Autism is a childhood condition. 

A lot of people believe autism can only be diagnosed in children, and I used to be one of them: I didn’t think I could possibly be autistic at the ripe old age of 16. Something else, that is slightly more illogical, is that autistic people are only autistic when they’re children. 

Both myths are false. As knowledge around autism continues to grow, people are being diagnosed in their 40s, 50s, or even 60s. People who were diagnosed in childhood continue to be autistic their whole lives as well. It is not something you grow out of, as it is a lifelong condition. There is no cure for autism either, and nor should there be. Us autistic people are not ‘broken’ and need to be ‘fixed,’ nor are we ‘children’ that need to ‘grow up.’