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Five Common Autism Myths Debunked

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we offer the facts behind some of the most common autism myths. Find out more now.

April 03, 2017 | HF Healthy Living Team

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also known as autism, is a developmental disorder that affects behavioral and social capabilities. Those affected often communicate, behave, and learn in different ways than most, and while some need daily assistance, others live more independently.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism used to be categorized by three different types: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. Now, they are all considered part of autism spectrum disorder.

There can be a lot of misinformation about the disorder. Find out the truth about these autism myths now.

Myth: Autism is a New Disorder

Autism has been steadily increasing in the last 20 years and is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S., but it isn’t new. Dr. Leo Kanner first described the disorder in 1943, but before 1985 autism was very rare. It only occurred at a rate of 67 per 10,000 children ages three to ten for the entire autism spectrum.

According to the CDC, this number has increased by about 123% during 2002 and 2010. The numbers are now 1 in 68 in children: 1 in 189 in girls and 1 in 42 in boys. Although people of all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups can be affected, boys are 4.5 times more likely to get the disorder.

Myth: Diet Doesn’t Affect Behavior

Gluten Free Foods
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Autistic children often don’t get the nutrition they need to address the fact that their bones are thinner than those of children without the disorder. Those affected may sometimes eat only certain foods because of how the food feels in their mouth; others may avoid foods that have been associated with stomach pain. Every child’s interaction with food is different.

However, some people with autism have found that a nutritious diet and a change in specific foods can help with behavioral and developmental outcomes. Studies have shown that diets excluding gluten (a mixture of proteins found in wheat and related grains) and casein (a protein mainly derived from cow’s milk) may have a positive impact for autistic patients. But a gluten- and casein-free diet is not considered a treatment for autism. Nutritional therapy can help autistic patients improve in certain areas, but it’s important to discuss these choices with a dietician or doctor first.

Myth: Autism is a Lifelong Mental Health Disorder

Autism is a neurological disorder, and the people affected often have gastrointestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and allergies as well. Many of those with autism have a wide range of intellectual abilities that are also often overlooked. People with the disorder may have a harder time picking up simple tasks or social skills, but they often have an above-average IQ and can master complex subjects quicker than most.

Although there is no cure for autism, recent research has shown that some children with autism can test out of the diagnosis after going through intensive early intervention. It’s important to address any signs or symptoms right away to help your child get the necessary treatment. Since all children are affected differently, a small percentage will have what is known as an “optimal outcome,” while others may have the disorder long-term.

Myth: Environmental Factors Are the Only Cause

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Environmental factors play a large role in autism, as certain areas of the country are more affected than others. Research shows that environmental influences can increase or decrease autism risk in people who are genetically prone to it.

ASD has also been shown to run in families, since a parent can carry one or more of the genes and increase the risk. With identical twins, if one child has autism, the other has a 36%–95% risk of getting it as well. If one child of non-identical twins has it, the other has a 0%–31% chance. People who have genetic or chromosomal conditions like tuberous sclerosis (a disease that causes benign tumors) are also affected more. Those who take the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide during pregnancy have been linked to a higher risk of autism, along with children born to older parents.

Myth: Vaccines Cause Autism

There have been concerns in the last decade that certain ingredients like thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines cause autism, but there is no scientific evidence to prove that. The CDC conducted nine studies since 2003 and found no link between autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines or between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. There are also no links between ASD and other vaccine ingredients.

Vaccines are vital for your child’s well-being and for the well-being of those around them. Check out four reasons vaccines are important for your child’s health and make sure your kids get the right vaccinations.

If your child was diagnosed with or has autism, visit the New York Department of Health autism page to learn about early intervention and more.


© 2017 HF Management Services, LLC.

Healthfirst is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Healthfirst group of affiliated companies.

This health information or program is for educational purposes only and not intended to treat, diagnose, or act as a substitute for medical advice from your provider. Consult your healthcare provider and always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

“Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 21, 2017.

“Dietary Intervention in Autism,” Clinical Trials. May 2010.

“Nutrient Intake From Food in Children With Autism,” National Institutes of Health. November 2012.

“Facts about ASD,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 23, 2017.

“Trends in Autism,” National Institutes of Health. January–March 2004.

“Ratings of Broader Autism Phenotype…” National Institutes of Health. November 2016.

“Data and Statistics,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 23, 2017.

“Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed February 24, 2017.

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