Why is autism still so confusing?
Since 1999, the puzzle piece ribbon has represented the Autism Society, a symbol of the neurological disorder’s complexity. “Autism may be confusing to both ordinary people and professionals because some of its behavioral characteristics remind those of other, more common and better-described conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder,” explains Oksana Hagerty, PhD, a developmental psychologist at Beacon College in Leesburg, FL.
Newer brain research has moved from how we process concrete concepts like math and language to how the brain manages with more abstract concepts that play a role in autism—such as social and emotional intelligence. As neurologists gain a better understanding of the brain, they’re able to debunk more and more myths about autism. In honor of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, these are the outdated beliefs doctors wish we all would stop believing.
Myth: Individuals with autism are emotionless
Some people assume that autism leaves a person incapable of experiencing true emotions—think of Spock on Star Trek. But autism is a spectrum disorder, and people may express a range of emotions from excitement to anger, whereas others are more restricted in their expression. But individuals with autism can undoubtedly recognize, and feel, emotions from others, regardless of how they express it. According to an article in Pediatric Health, Medicine, and Therapeutics, most children with autism are able to recognize emotions comparable to their same-age peers by matching them. They can often label simpler feelings, like happiness and sadness, though they can struggle to identify emotions like surprise and fear, explains Tamara Bugembe, MD, a consultant pediatrician. Check out what teachers expect your kids to know, by grade level.