So many myths about autism, so little space!

‘It’s a male thing…’ Historically, autism has been associated with boys, therefore the diagnostic criteria that have developed are largely based around traditional male activities and clinical observations of autistic boys. An example would be the stereotype that autistic people love train-spotting and oh! how we love train timetables. Some do, many don’t… though surely a timetable is just a list by another name? And we do generally love lists, to risk a stereotype! Stereotypical associations such as these seem harmless – who cares if someone likes train-spotting? Until we realise that because the majority of children who were studied, in order to establish a set of diagnostic criteria, were boys, autistic girls and women have been misdiagnosed or with a missed diagnosis for much, or all, of our lives.

‘It’s just a new trend…’ This leads us to another current autism myth – the supposed ‘Autism Epidemic‘. There has been a huge rise in demand for autism assessments in recent months, with the National Autistic Society reporting that there has been a 350% increase in demand in some areas, for children alone (page 5 of their summer 2023 issue of Your Autism magazine). Despite what the popular press may say, it isn’t that there are more people that are autistic now than ever before, it’s that the diagnostic criteria for assessment are gradually changing as the realisation takes hold that autism is far from being an exclusively male neurological state of being. Alongside this, thanks to autistic people having more of a voice than ever before, our societies are beginning to realise that there is no shame in being autistic – the stigma, little by little, is in decline. Hence, people feel more comfortable about coming forward for assessment.

‘My child got autism after their MMR vaccinations’. Another well known myth. There is no relationship at all between vaccinations of any kind and autism. We are born autistic.

Here’s an example of the power of positive publicity, education and awareness, in relation to a previously stigmatised area of life. The massive impact of Davina McCall’s television series, Sex, Myths and Menopause, released in 2021. As a result of that series, public awareness of the value of HRT increased so much that HRT supplies were in short supply for months to come afterwards. Clearly, there weren’t more women experiencing the menopause – there were the same number of women in our age group that there had been before the documentary! The difference was in education and awareness, plus a big old dollop of shame removal.

‘Oh, we’re all on the spectrum to some degree’…That stomach churning comment that so many of us autistic people have been on the receiving end of – the one that starts, ‘well…we’re all a little bit on the spectrum’ when we announce our new diagnosis. No we’re not. We are neurologically wired differently. And no, you can’t nip into the autism stock cupboard, claim the fun bits, or the aspects that give you convenient excuses for your shortcomings, and nip out again!

It’s really straightforward: we are either autistic or we are not autistic.