If there’s something that the past year has taught me, it’s that people will cling to their opinions no matter what. It doesn’t matter how wrong those opinions may be, they are nearly impossible for some people to change their minds on a subject. No one likes to have their beliefs challenged and that alone will make people double down on nonsense. You could be a qualified expert in your chosen field, but someone who hasn’t done a one-minute-long Google search will argue you down about how wrong you are. This is not the way. People need to be willing to listen to facts and to change their thinking accordingly.
One of the topics that people like to be loud and wrong about is Autism. There is so much misinformation swirling around about it that people are terrified of the word. If you don’t believe me, casually drop it into your conversation and watch the energy shift. The stigma around general mental health issues gets magnified when people discuss Autism, and it is frustrating.
I’m a parent of an autistic person and it has been an adventure. Over the years, I have had to listen to people try to scare or degrade myself and my child over the life we were given. Before they were diagnosed, no one believed that his speech regression was a big deal when he was a year and a half old. They were sure that he would just grow out of it. These “experts” thought it was silly of me to be concerned about how particular my child was about the way their toy trains lined up or the way he liked to drag his toes while he walked. It was absolute nonsense that my kid would cry inconsolably when there was a loud noise, and they were just acting up.
I, however, knew better.
I was aware of the typical stages of child development because of my background in special education. I knew what to look for and I noticed what should have been happening and what wasn’t. Thanks to this, I was able to advocate for my child to get the supports that they needed. I’m grateful for my education and prior experiences that informed me of what I should do. That isn’t always the case for everyone.
There are parents that allow the voices of the crowd to prevent them for seeking assistance for their kids. The “vaccines cause Autism” crowd loves to throw blame onto parents. The shame and stigma can haunt parents well into their child’s life, preventing them from seeking needed services. The Autism label can be scary and daunting for families at first, but with some education and understanding, things will be better for all involved.
Myth 1: Vaccines cause Autism
This is very false. Ten of the coauthors of the study linking vaccines and autism admitted the findings were misleading and that they were paid to push the causation narrative several years ago. However, by the time they admitted it, the damage had already been done. Celebrities and religious groups happily prayed on anti-vaxxers fears and continued their spread of the misinformation to further their own agendas. Scientists aren’t 100% certain what does cause autism, but we know it isn’t vaccines. Vaccines help with eradicating diseases, remember. That’s why polio isn’t really a big thing anymore. And while I’m on the subject…
Myth 2: Autism is a disease
Autism is a developmental disability that affects social, emotional, and communicative development. There is such a similarity of identifiers that three different disorders, autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome are lumped together and called the autism spectrum. Since it is a developmental delay, other developmental delays like ADHD, can present at the same time. However, autism itself, is a different machine. At its heart, autism is not an illness. You cannot take medicine to reverse autism. You can’t get a shot and your autism clears up in a matter of weeks. Autistic people aren’t sick. They’re brains just work differently. That’s why that fluorescent light humming might not bother you, but the autistic person is freaking out. You probably didn’t even notice, but they did.
Myth 3: A diagnosis of Autism is a death sentence.
This one kills me. No one has ever died of Autism. Ever. Because it isn’t a disease.
Have people died of the flu? Yes. Pneumonia? Certainly. Measles, mumps, and rubella? Absolutely. This is why you vaccinate your kids, but have you noticed that there isn’t a medication for autism? There are meds that try to alleviate some related things, but nothing that directly treats Autism. Can you guess why?
Myth 4: Don’t get diagnosed.
Have you even had a mysterious illness and doctors had no idea what was going on with you? Until you receive that diagnosis, you don’t really have a plan of how to move forward. It might be a cold, the flu, seasonal allergies, or COVID-19? The not-knowing drives you up the wall. Once you know what’s happening, the relief is palpable. You aren’t some weird outlier. There is hope for me.
Apply that same thinking to Autism as well. Couple this with the fact that you may be a non-verbal two-year-old. Your parents might be totally lost. They might be mad at you all the time for having so many meltdowns. They don’t understand why you can’t tell them what’s wrong.
Having the evaluations and diagnosis done can be overwhelming but at the end of the road, there is hope in that diagnosis. You can make a support plan. You can learn strategies to make everyone’s lives better. The earlier you can get help, the better.
The bottom line is, try to develop an informed opinion before you speak. If that is too much, silence is always an option. The option to say that you don’t know is always available as well. Before you say something hurtful or dismissive, make sure that you have as much information as possible. Being mindful of your thoughts and words can save a lot of trouble in the end. Someone is always listening, and you might not realize the influence you might have.
Words mean things and words have power.