May 12, 2023

Understanding autism: Beyond the myths and misunderstandings

Early diagnosis and individualized care can lead to better outcomes for individuals with autism.

Knowledge can help dispel stigma and misconceptions surrounding the complex condition of autism, leading to greater understanding and acceptance.

Increasing awareness about autism is important so that we can promote inclusion and provide support for individuals who are impacted by this condition. Knowledge helps dispel stigmas and misconceptions surrounding the condition, leading to greater understanding and acceptance.

What is autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by genetic and environmental factors. It affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. Symptoms can be noticed by age 2; severe cases and symptoms may be noticed by 12 months of age. Autism is not only diagnosed in children, it affects adults as well.

Autism can cause a delay in talking or can cause a child to not talk at all. Repeated routines or overused behaviors, interests, and play can also be symptoms. Frequently, if daily routines are changed, the individual with autism could become highly upset. Also, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Research has shown that certain genes may be associated with an increased risk of developing autism, and environmental factors during pregnancy may also play a role. 

Even though research and learning about this condition continues, autism remains a complex condition to understand. “It is important to educate ourselves to dismiss widespread misinformation. It is also key for families to be informed so that they can advocate for their child’s health and future,” said Evita Limon-Rocha, MD, child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center. “Unfortunately, it’s easy to become influenced by a lot of misinformation.”

Beyond the myths and misunderstandings

According to Dr. Limon-Rocha, a few misconceptions suggest that autism is caused by vaccines or bad parenting. “That’s inherently false,” Dr. Limon-Rocha stressed. “There is absolutely no truth to it, as many studies have debunked the theory. It has been established that childhood vaccines are safe and protect children against serious diseases.”

“Contrary to what some may believe, there’s no autism epidemic taking place across the country,” said Dr. Limon-Rocha. “Although more children are being diagnosed with autism, we can thank advancements in medicine and behavioral health for that, which are enabling medical professionals to diagnose high-functioning children with autism,” explained Dr. Limon-Rocha. “Before such advancements in medicine, it was more common to misdiagnose children with intellectual disabilities. Now we understand that many of those disabilities can be attributed to autism.”

What we also know is that autism affects boys more than girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, boys are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. This may be because autism is caused by genetic factors, and some genes that are associated with autism may be more common in boys.

Early diagnosis is the key,” said Dr. Limon-Rocha. “If a child is diagnosed early, they can receive individualized medical and behavioral health attention. Just like any other medical diagnosis, early intervention and treatment can impact a child’s future and overall well-being.” Dr. Limon-Rocha advises those who have any concerns related to autism to discuss them with their health care provider.