Autism - Myths and Facts

"If you've heard the stories about autism..."

Myth: "Autism or ASD is the result of bad parenting."
Fact: Although autism is a recognized mental disorder it is still badly understood by the majority of people. Despite the fact that the causes of autism aren't fully understood, it is clear that a strong genetic basis may be involved. The condition on the increase and occurs all over the world. Autism occurs in one in 250 babies and four out of five children with autism or ASD are boys. Autistic spectrum disorder affects more children than cancer, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis combined.

Myth: "All children with autism have learning problems"
Fact: Autism manifests in different ways in different people. The disorder's symptoms can vary significantly and although some children have severe learning problems, others are very intelligent and can cope extremely well with difficult learning materials and often do well in subjects such as maths. Children with Asperger's syndrome for instance, often do well at school and develop into independent adults.

Myth: "Autism is the result of childhood vaccination."
Fact: Between 2000 and 2001, three expert reviews unanimously concluded that the data that were available at the time of these claims did not support this association. A large-scale study in 2002 also reported no association. Expert review panels also reached similar conclusions with regard to thimerosal exposure or the mercury-containing preservative used in childhood vaccines, although fewer data are available.

Myth:"Children with autism need special foods."
Fact: It is true that many children with autism suffer from intolerance to certain foods such as dairy products or foods containing gluten. Other foods, such as sweets or foods containing lots of sugar or acids, may affect the child's behaviour. It is important to discuss nutrition with healthcare professionals, as altering your child's diet may improve your child's wellbeing and behaviour.

Myth: "Children with autism can't go to school as they behave badly."
Fact: Provided suitable programmes are developed for a child with autism, it is often possible for a child with autism to function in a classroom as their behaviour can be improved. In some cases children can even cope in conventional schools. On the whole children with autism will benefit tremendously from being integrated in classroom life. Only the severest cases won't be able to cope in a classroom setting or their behaviour may be harmful to other children.

Myth: "It's simple; once a child with autism is prescribed medication, it will be cured."
Fact: To date there is no treatment that cures autism and medication is only prescribed to treat a number of the associated symptoms of autism. Medication will also be prescribed if the child suffers from other mental disorders. However, the best outcome will be achieved when a developmental programme is developed that focuses on the child's strengths and weaknesses and that is complemented by medication where symptoms can't be treated with psychotherapy and developmental programmes alone. To date not much scientific research is available to demonstrate the benefits of medication in children with autism. Parents and caregivers should be closely involved in the decision to use medication.

Myth: "It's just a phase, he'll grow out of it."
Fact: Children with autism will never be cured. However, many children with milder forms of autism such as Asperger syndrome will be able to end up living independent lives provided they have been given appropriate support and education. Other children with more severe forms of autism will always require help and support and won't be able to live fully independent lives. This causes considerable worry to parents, especially when they realize that they might not be around to support their child throughout adult life. It is important that you discuss this with your local support teams as an appropriate solution will need to be found for your child if s/he won't be able to live an independent life in adulthood."

Myth: "Autism never occurs more than once in a family."
Fact: Although no exact cause is known for autism, there are clear indicators that genetic factors play a role. Studies have revealed that autism is likely to affect both identical twins or that siblings of a child with autism are at an increased risk of having autism.

Myth: "My child has autism. I can cope by myself and don't need any help."
Fact: Dealing with an autistic child poses a very heavy burden on parents and the rest of the family. Left untreated, your child's condition is likely to worsen and it is important to seek a diagnosis as early as possible. This will improve your child's outcome as the right programme can be developed for your child. Your child's wellbeing will improve and you will get the support you need to deal with your child at home as well as get quality time with the rest of the family and the other children. Trying to deal with your child on your own will not only deteriorate your child's wellbeing, but your life and that of the rest of the family will become increasingly stressful and get out of control. Seeking help and having your child diagnosed will improve the wellbeing of the whole family and ensure that the necessary support is available when required.

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