6 Important Things to Know About Autism

If you're the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you're likely well-informed about its symptoms and implications. However, other people in your child's life—relatives, friends, and teachers—may not know much about ASD and therefore may make assumptions.

It can be frustrating when people have misconceptions, are judgmental, or offer unsolicited advice. Here are some of the key things about autism to share with others and to clear up any misunderstandings.


Not All People With Autism Are the Same

young twin boys

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Autism is called a spectrum disorder precisely because it is characterized by a broad range of symptoms and abilities. People with autism can be high-functioning, low-functioning, or somewhere in-between. They can be highly intelligent and verbal, or cognitively challenged and nonverbal.

The most significant shared symptom among people with ASD is difficulty with social communication, such as making eye contact, conversation, or understanding another's perspective.

A Misunderstood Diagnosis

One reason for the confusion about what it means to have ASD is that diagnostic terms have changed over time. Prior to 2013, when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) came out, a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome indicated high-functioning autism, while "autism" suggested a more severe disorder. As of 2013, Asperger's no longer exists, and all people on the autism spectrum receive the same diagnosis of ASD.


There Is No Need for a Cure for Autism

There is no need for a cure for autism, nor is there a need for one. Autism is a lifelong diagnosis.

Intensive early intervention may reduce ASD symptoms, and there are many effective treatments that address the sensory, behavioral, developmental, and medical symptoms of ASD. Depending upon the child, certain therapies will be more successful than others. People with autism can also learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and even build on their unique strengths.


There Is No Known Cause of Autism

No one knows exactly what causes autism. Researchers believe it may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Pregnancy complications and parental age may also increase risk.

The notion that vaccines or "bad parenting" cause autism has been widely debunked by the medical community.


There's No "Best" School for All Children With Autism

You may have heard of a wonderful "autism school," or read of a child doing amazingly well in a particular type of classroom setting. While a given setting may be perfect for a particular child, every child with ASD has unique needs. Decisions about the best type of education for a child with autism are generally made together by parents, teachers, administrators, and therapists who know the child well.


People With Autism Have Feelings and Emotions

People with autism are capable of feeling and expressing love, though some do so in idiosyncratic ways. Most are also able to have close relationships, including romantic relationships.

A person with ASD may need help developing empathy because they may not be able to interpret what other people are feeling based on their body language. Downcast eyes or a turned back, for example, don't necessarily signal "sadness" or "anger" to a person with autism. However, if someone explains that another person is feeling sad or hurt, a person with ASD can respond with true empathy.


Families Dealing With Autism Need Help and Support

It can be hard to ask others for support, especially if they misunderstand the nature of autism. Therefore, one of the most important things to convey to family and friends is that having an autistic child can be hard.

Even high-functioning autism can be challenging—for the person diagnosed with it as well as their family. For a family affected by severe autism, daily life can be overwhelming. If you're feeling stressed, you need all the non-judgmental help you can get from friends, extended family, and service providers.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Intervention. Diagnostic Criteria.

  3. Hodges H, Fealko C, Soares N. Autism spectrum disorder: definition, epidemiology, causes, and clinical evaluation. Transl Pediatr. 2020 Feb;9(Suppl 1):S55-S65. doi: 10.21037/tp.2019.09.09

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.