Top 7 Autism Myths and Facts

These Common Myths Make It Hard to Understand What Autism Is Really Like

A diagnosis of autism is not the end of love and hope nor is it a guarantee of extraordinary "savant" abilities. But media stories thrive on the most frightening, extraordinary, and heart-wrenching circumstances. Here are just a few of the myths perpetuated by TV, magazines, and movies—myths that undermine understanding and make it even tougher to manage real-world autism.

As you read through these myths, bear in mind that the vast majority of people with autism are neither geniuses nor severely disabled. They are also very different from one another. What they share are challenges in specific areas of functioning that are severe enough to make daily activities unusually difficult.


Autistic People Are All Alike

pensive child looking through window
Christian Martinez Kempin/E+/Getty Images

Myth: If I’ve met an autistic person (or seen the movie Rain Man), I have a good idea of what all autistic people are like.

Fact: Autistic people are as different from one another as they could be. The only elements that all autistic people seem to have in common are unusual difficulty with social communication.


Autistic People Don't Have Feelings

Father and son looking at tablet
Tom Merton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Myth: Autistic people cannot feel or express love or empathy.

Fact: Many — in fact, most — autistic people are extremely capable of feeling and expressing love, though sometimes in idiosyncratic ways. What's more, many autistic people are far more empathetic than the average person, though they may not always express their empathy in a typical manner.


Autistic People Don't Build Relationships

Two children looking outside of car window
CaiaImage/Getty Images

Myth: Autistic people cannot build solid relationships with others.

Fact: While it’s unlikely that an autistic child will be a cheerleader, it is very likely that they will have solid relationships with, at the very least, their closest family members. And many autistic people do build strong friendships through shared passionate interests. There are also plenty of autistic people who marry and have satisfying romantic relationships.


Autistic People Are a Danger to Society

Child smiling and looking up at the sky
Thomas Barwick/Taxi/Getty Images

Myth: Autistic people are dangerous.

Fact: Highly publicized news reports of individuals with Asperger Syndrome committing violent acts have led to fears about violence and autism. While there are many autistic individuals who exhibit violent behaviors, those behaviors are often directed toward themselves rather than toward others. In addition, aggressive behaviors from people with autism are almost always caused by frustration, physical and/or sensory overload, or similar issues. It’s very rare for an autistic person to act violently out of malice.


All Autistic People Are Savants

Young girl playing piano
Inti St Clair/Blend Images/Getty Images

Myth: Autistic people have amazing “savant” abilities, such as extraordinary math skills or musical skills.

Fact: It is true that a relatively few autistic people are “savants.” While some autistic savants are able to use their amazing skills for practical purposes, most cannot. That's because they are unable to use their skills in the context of, for example, a school or business setting. By far the majority of autistic people, though, have ordinary or even less-than-ordinary skill sets.


Autistic People Have No Language Skills

Hero Images/Getty Images

Myth: Most autistic people are nonverbal or close to nonverbal.

Fact: It's true that some individuals with an autism diagnosis are nonverbal or nearly nonverbal. But the autism spectrum also includes extremely verbal individuals with very high reading skills. Diagnoses at the higher end of the spectrum are increasing much faster than diagnoses at the lower end of the spectrum.


Autistic People Have Little Potential for Success

Child jumping in field
Donald Iain Smith/Moment/Getty Images

Myth: I shouldn’t expect much of an autistic person.

Fact: Autistic individuals can achieve great things, but only if they're supported by people who believe in their potential. Autistic people are often the creative innovators in our midst. They see the world through a different lens and when their perspective is respected, they can change the world.

If You've Met One Person with Autism...

There's a popular saying, "if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." Next time you hear a media story that presents autistic people as tragic or outrageously talented, bear in mind that the story is about just one individual. The kid down the street or in your class is probably a very different person.

Was this page helpful?