Autism Sydney

5 Most Common Myths about Autism Debunked

Dr Shelley Hyman

As awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder continues to increase globally, so do the general populations preconceptions on what Autism is, what it looks like and what causes it. Unfortunately, this can lead to the spread of misinformation about the condition, which results in not only a greater difficulty in Autism to be recognised, but also isolating and stigmatising those who do have the condition.

  1. Myth: Vaccinations cause Autism

Fact: No Peer-reviewed study or Meta-analysis of data has ever proven a successful link between any vaccine and the development of Autism. The most up to date research suggests that a combination of development, genetic and environmental factors lead to the development of Autism, and that there is no clean singular cause of it. The study that first suggested that there was a link between Vaccination and Autism in 1998 has since been disproven and retracted due to poor design, method and procedure, thus creating an incorrect result.

  1. Myth: People with Autism Spectrum Disorder cannot understand other people’s emotions

Fact: Those who have Autism have more difficulty interpreting emotions in others through non-verbal communication, such as body language or facial expressions. This does not mean that they cannot understand emotions, but rather struggle with the implicit recognition of them in other people. If the emotions are expressed verbally, they are likely to be understood.

  1. Myth: People with Autism Spectrum Disorder don’t have emotions/experience different emotion to those without Autism.

Fact: Those who are on the Autism Spectrum often express their emotions or emotional understanding of a situation in different ways. In particular, children on the Autism spectrum are more likely to describe, understand and remember emotions in terms of features (e.g. relating feeling sad to tear running down their face or down turned lips for sadness) or non-emotional experiences (e.g. Describing a an abstract situation of feeling guilty) rather than relating it to a personal experience.

  1. Myth: Those on the Autism Spectrum are prodigies / are mentally disabled

Fact: Since Autism exists on a spectrum, each individual experience the advantages and disadvantages at different degree’s. Each autistic person experiences the symptoms to different degree’s, and just like the general papulation it is near impossible to generalise intelligence. There is just as many individuals with advanced intelligence as there is ones with average intelligence. However, it can be noted that those on the Autism spectrum do tend to have an affinity for activities that involve repetitive tasks and attention to detail.

  1. Myth: Those on the Autism spectrum don’t value social skills/social interaction

Fact: Despite how it is portrayed in pop culture, a diagnosis of Autism does not indicate a lack of interest in social interaction or making friends. Rather, they simply have a greater difficulty in developing the social tools necessary to navigate social situations, often resulting in seeking solitary activities, leading to further isolation. Encouraging social interaction and engaging them in group physical activities, particularly in the early childhood, can help overcome the potential social disadvantage.


  • Taylor, L., Swerdfeger, A., & Eslick, G. (2014). Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Vaccine32(29), 3623-3629.
  • Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Ungerer, J., & Sherman, T. (1986). DEFINING THE SOCIAL DEFICITS OF AUTISM: THE CONTRIBUTION OF NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION MEASURES. Journal Of Child Psychology And Psychiatry, 27(5), 657-669.
  • Losh, M., & Capps, L. (2006). Understanding of emotional experience in autism: Insights from the personal accounts of high-functioning children with autism. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 809-818.
  • O’Brien, G., & Pearson, J. (2004). Autism and Learning Disability. Autism, 8(2), 125-140.
  • Memari, A., Panahi, N., Ranjbar, E., Moshayedi, P., Shafiei, M., Kordi, R., & Ziaee, V. (2015). Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Patterns of Participation in Daily Physical and Play Activities. Neurology Research International, 2015, 1-7.
  • Cunningham, A. (2011). Measuring Change in Social Interaction Skills of Young Children with Autism. Journal Of Autism And Developmental Disorders, 42(4), 593-605.
Dr Shelley Hyman

About Dr Shelley Hyman

Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist. BSc (psychol) Hons, MClinNeuropsych, PhD (Med) MAPS CCN. Founder and director of the centre that was founded in 2006.