Autism misconceptions: myths vs facts

Wednesday, 3 April 2024

It is estimated that one in thirty-six children have autism spectrum disorder, and yet there is a concerningly large amount of misinformation and misunderstanding that surrounds the subject.

For some, it’s become a term to describe someone with anti-social tendencies, someone with specific talents, or someone who has trouble focusing.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and as the name suggests, it’s thirty days in the year when separating autism fact from fiction becomes particularly important.

As a part of this year’s Autism Awareness Month, we’re sharing some of the misinformed and ableist comments our Facebook page has received about autism and breaking down their misconceptions.

Disclaimer: we understand that there is no one right way to refer to autism. Every person has their own personal language preference, and these preferences are valid and should be respected. In this article, we will predominantly use “people with autism.”

Myth: People with autism deliberately lean into their flaws to leech resources from others.

Fact: While it’s true that people with autism may require extra support from others in their lives, they typically fiercely crave independence as a result, making goals like independent living and meaningful employment all the more important to them. This also means that a significant portion of people with autism are quite self-aware of their dependence, and it’s a source of insecurity for them.

Rather than playing into these insecurities and belittling, focus on what they’ve achieved despite the additional challenges they face, and their drive to constantly become more independent.

Jack stands behind the counter at Brouhaha.
Jack has Autism, and he’s been killing it at his new job at Brouhaha bar in Maleny.

Myth: We all have problems, we just don’t complain about it as much as people with autism.

Fact: It’s true we all have our own unique struggles, but it’s incredibly counterproductive to minimalise the experiences of others. A different way to look at the situation is that everyone requires support, and we must have access to the right resources to acquire it.

People with autism’s struggles are valid, and the organisations dedicated to providing support are essential to helping them reach their potential.

Myth: Autism is not a disability. It’s an illness that can be treated and improved.

Fact: No cure exists for autism spectrum disorder, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all management strategy. It’s not an illness, it’s a developmental disorder and it affects one in a hundred people in Australia. While there are techniques, therapies, and medications that can be used to help a person with autism manage the disorder, it’s a part of themselves and they will live with it for the rest of their life. It’s important to recognise this and understand that autism has its own list of strengths as well as weaknesses. Autism is a spectrum, and people with autism have a range of life experiences.

Hyperlexia (the ability to read above one’s age or grade level in school), a strong creative streak, and learning and memorising information quickly are just a few of the strengths that may be displayed by a person with autism.

Myth: People with autism can only excel in jobs where they work with numbers or specialist positions.

Fact: It’s true that many people with autism can excel in these positions due to their proclivity towards logical thinking, attention to detail, and a strong adherence to rules. However, this does not mean that someone might have strengths that help them to achieve meaningful employment in other areas.

A recent example is Thomas who works as a workshop assistant at All Ability Garage in Morayfield. His manager, Cameron, has a son with autism and insisted that Thomas’ hyper fixation with cars was a bonus. It not only means that he is beyond capable in his position, but his broad knowledge also means he’s able to effectively teach NDIS participants at the garage in a way they can understand and digest.

Thomas and Cameron standing out front of their newest project with EPIC Consultant Lynn Barben
Thomas standing with Cameron and his Employment Consultant Lynn.

Myth: Hiring people with autism is putting my staff’s safety at risk and my own.

Fact: We have many stories of employees with autism flourishing in their roles with the support of their managers. Jack from Brouhaha in Maleny, and Lachlan from a gaming café in Ipswich are two examples, along with the aforementioned Thomas.

Ultimately, autism isn’t any kind of indication if someone will put staff members at risk. Behaving as if it does can only serve to further alienate them and prevent them from employment opportunities. Treat them as you would anyone else: as an individual.

Lachlan smiles for the camera.
Lachlan wears the title ‘nerd’ like a badge. It’s thanks to his autism that he’s able to absorb information on a wide range of topics and remember it so easily.

Myth: My autism is a trait that employers will discriminate against me for. I shouldn’t tell them about it.

Fact: Every person looking to find and maintain employment has the choice to disclose their disability or not. The law says that an employee is only obligated to tell their employer about their disability if it affects their ability to work, their safety, and/or the safety of others.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, employers legally cannot treat a person with disability less favourably than a person without disability would be treated in the same or similar situation.

If you still wish not to disclose your autism, understand that you might be keeping yourself from potential support options that could be sourced for you by your employer. A good employer wants to see you grow, flourish, and perform in your position – and they’ll do all they can to give you the resources to do so.

EPIC Assist is your local disability employment service

At EPIC Assist, we have connected several people with autism to jobs and work environments that they love. We believe everyone has the right to meaningful employment.

It’s important to understand and share this information, and to empower places of employment to share and celebrate employees with autism without fear of misunderstanding or inflammatory comments.

Remember, autism means different, not less than.

If you or someone you know has a disability, injury, mental health condition, or health condition, we can help them prepare for, find, and keep a job they love.

If you are an employer looking to open more diverse and inclusive opportunities in your business, we can connect you with job-ready candidates with disability and break down barriers to hiring people with disability.

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