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Four Myths About Autism

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Four Myths About Autism

March 16, 2020 | Pavel “Pasha” Demidov, MS, BCBA

A myth is a false belief or idea. The internet enables myths, as well as other false information, to spread faster and more widely than ever before. There is a high probability of misinformation published on the internet about autism and treatments for autism. The mythology around autism seems to have a life of its own.

Proceed with caution when researching the topic online. The most trustworthy authorities on autism and autism treatment are institutions that publish evidence-based or peer-reviewed research like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is one of the world’s foremost medical research centers. Public health departments at the state and local level; academic medical centers; professional societies and academies; and non-governmental organizations focused on health and medicine are also trustworthy sources.

Why is there so much misinformation and unreliable information about autism on the internet? This is probably for three main reasons:

  • First, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is prevalent, so there are many blogs and websites dedicated to parenting advice or treatment guidance. Many of these sources are not validated by research or peer reviewed by professionals in medical research or healthcare.
  • Second, although there are many resources on the internet about autism spectrum disorder, there is still much research that needs to be done.
  • Third, due to individual differences among people with autism, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, so even if something you read online is factual, it may not apply to your loved one.

Here are four common myths about autism:

Myth: Autism can be cured.

Truth: There is no known cure for autism.

According to NIH, there are no cures for autism spectrum disorder. There’s no magic diet, no magic drug combination and no magic cure of any type. While medications sometimes can be effective to treat certain conditions sometimes associated with autism (like ADHD), these medications are not a cure.

Fortunately, autism can be treated with behavioral interventions. Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a validated scientific method used to treat behavioral deficits and excesses commonly observed in individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Practitioners use these methods to assess behavior and design interventions to change behavior. ABA treatment is the most widely accepted approach to access and intervene with individuals with ASD.

Myth: Children can develop autism as a result of flawed parenting.

Truth: There is no evidence that flawed or bad parenting leads to autism.

Years ago, when very little was known about developmental disabilities, people theorized all sorts of things, including this idea. NIH concluded there is no evidence to support that bad or flawed parenting is a cause of autism spectrum disorder.

If you are experiencing guilt or grieving, you are not alone. Research has shown that parents will encounter feelings of unexpected child loss, shock, negation, fear, guilt, anger or sadness. Despite the myth, it is not your fault. If you have these feelings, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional to learn how to navigate through these obstacles.

Myth: Children can develop autism from immunizations.

Truth: There’s no reliable evidence that this is true.

Parents need to make up their own minds about immunizations for their children, and this article is not intended to advise parents to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. Rather, the article presents factual information based on scientific research that is intended to help parents make an informed choice.

According to NIH: “Multiple studies have shown that vaccination to prevent childhood infectious diseases does not increase the risk of autism in the population.” No sound research has been able to substantiate otherwise.

Whether or not vaccinations are strongly correlated with causing autism continues to be a hot topic of discussion and debate on the internet. The Centers for Disease Control offers more information on the MMR vaccinations, including contraindications and precautions for administering the vaccination. It is important to consult with your primary care physician about your family’s medical history, the risks and benefits, and your reservations about the MMR vaccination.

Myth: Behaviors associated with autism cannot be changed.

Truth: There is considerable empirical evidence demonstrating the contrary.

Every practitioner of ABA-based therapy has observed and documented evidence about individuals learning the skills that have enabled them to adjust to situations and navigate life more successfully.

If your child received behavioral therapy and you don’t think it worked, try it again with a different practitioner. There are many methods to improve behavior, but it requires commitment, collaboration and patience to achieve reasonable goals for your child. NIH similarly concluded: “For many children, symptoms improve with age and behavioral treatment.”

Autism is a complex condition. While there are some things unknown about it, there’s much more that we do know, which is why these myths have been dispelled and why attitudes toward people with autism are changing for the better. One day, advances in imaging and genetics may help solve all the puzzles of autism. In the meantime, the most important fact to know is that proven treatment techniques do exist, and they are helping those with autism function better every day.

Following are links to important resources you may want to explore on your own:

Visit our Home-Based ABA / Behavioral Therapy page to learn more about how therapy may help your child. Or schedule a consult to request a complimentary 30 minute in-person or phone consultation to discuss your specific situation.

About the Author

Pavel Demidov is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has provided applied behavior analysis (ABA)-based treatment to children and adults with developmental disabilities since 2002. In 2012 Pavel received his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from University of La Verne. He currently serves as associate director of clinical services for California Psychcare in the Apple Valley region. Pavel’s specific areas of interest include functional assessments and caregiver training.

Outside of his job with California Psychcare, Pavel provides consulting services to ABA specialists and families of children with disabilities in Russia, where he grew up.

Pavel “Pasha” Demidov, MS, BCBA

Associate Director of Clinical Services
California Psychcare

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Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) / Behavioral Therapy – Home Based

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, refers to a variety of treatment options that are based on the principles of behavior analysis. ABA uses scientifically-based techniques for understanding and changing behavior, and is the most widely accepted approach to assess and intervene with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental challenges or delays. This type of therapy is conducted one-on-one, is customized for each person, and is appropriate for individuals of all ages.

For more articles, visit our Stay Informed page.

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