There is no proven cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder, but early intervention treatment has been shown to help improve children’s development. However, there are a lot of autism myths and treatments that are quite misguided.
Here are a few myths to be wary of.
Myth 1: Autism Can Be Cured
Some parents of autistic children believe that certain diet changes, medicine or behavioral treatment can cure autism, but there is no cure. However, there are some treatments, which are prescribed on an individual basis by doctors, that can help children with autism.
“We do know that with early intervention with younger children and Applied Behavioral Analysis, we can improve a child’s functioning,” Dr. Bob Marion, Director of Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York told ABC News.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a form of therapy for children recently diagnosed with autism. By breaking down desirable behaviors into steps and rewarding the child for completing each step, ABA teaches and enforces behavioral development.
Marion explains that although behaviors such as eye contact, social interactions and the development of language can improve, it won’t change the underlying biological disorder.
“And that is definitely not a cure,” Marion said.
Myth 2: Chelation Therapy Can Cure Autism
Chelation therapy aims to rid the body of toxic chemicals, such as heavy metals, by “binding” them and removing them from the body’s circulation. Chelation therapy can come in the form of a spray, suppositories, capsules, liquid drops and clay baths. The FDA has approved chelation therapy for certain uses, but not for autism. Proponents say chelation therapy could be an effective treatment because they believe autism is caused by exposure to mercury, such as from childhood vaccines.
Myth 3: People With Autism Are Unwilling or Unable to Build Social Relationships
For some people on the autism spectrum it is possible to build friendships, but not for those on the severe side of the spectrum. People with autism may come across as shy or unfriendly, but that’s only because they lack certain social and communication skills most people have. Research has shown that children and adults with ASD do care about others, but lack the ability to spontaneously develop empathic and socially connected behaviors.
“At the most severe end of the spectrum, yes, that’s true. But there is a multitude of children [with autism] who have friends, and even some who do have close relationships,” Marion told ABC News.
Myth 4: Autism Is the Result of Having Emotionally Unavailable Parents
One of the oldest myths about autism is that it’s caused by cold and emotionally unavailable parents. This false, and potentially dangerous, theory began in the 1940s, when Austrian doctor Bruno Bettelheim said that autism was the result of parents — specifically mothers — who did not love their children. As a result, Bettelheim theorized, these children withdrew and then developed autism.
Modern research has shown that a child’s diagnosis of ASD has nothing to do with their parents’ affection or lack thereof.
“We don’t know if there are any things that a parent can do or not do, conclusively, will determine whether their child gets autism or not,” said Dr. Daniel Geshwind, Director of UCLA’s Neurogenetics program and Center for Autism Research. “Most of the evidence right now points to there being a very strong genetic predisposition in most cases of autism, but not all.”
Myth 5: People With Autism Can’t Read Other People’s Emotions
People with autism often have difficulty reading body language, understanding sarcasm or comprehending facial expressions in order to interpret emotions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand human emotion. When emotions are more directly communicated, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion.
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.