Debunking eight misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder

profile picture of Deirdre Concannon
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist
20 February 2024
Next review due February 2027

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition. It affects the brain. This can lead to difficulties with social communication, as well as restricted, repetitive behaviours. People with autism often face stigma and discrimination. There can be misconceptions about causes of ASD and how it presents. In this article, I will explore these in more detail.

children reading books in a waiting room

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can affect how you behave and interact with others. Most people are neurotypical, which means they think and behave in a way that society traditionally considers ‘normal’. Autism means being neurodivergent. There are many different types of neurodiversity.

In the UK, it’s estimated that around 700,000 adults and children have a diagnosis of autism. However, it is believed that many people have autism but do not yet have a diagnosis. So it’s estimated that a further 750,000 people have the condition. Symptoms of autism include difficulties with social situations and having intense interests or “obsessions”. However, it’s important to note that not everyone with ASD will be the same.

Misconceptions about ASD

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be misunderstood. Here are eight misconceptions about ASD and the reality behind each one.

1. People with autism lack emotions

People with autism may not interpret - or express - emotions in the same way as neurotypical individuals. This can be shown by reduced facial expressions. It might also seem like they lack empathy. But this doesn’t mean that someone with autism doesn’t feel emotion.

In fact, it may be that they are feeling many emotions and are struggling to manage them. This may lead to them having a:

  • meltdown, where they may have physical or verbal outbursts
  • shutdown, where they become quiet and withdrawn

2. Autism is a disease

Autism is not a disease or a mental health condition. It is also not an illness. People with ASD however can be affected by mental health issues. This includes:

  • depression
  • anxiety (including social anxiety disorder/social phobia)
  • difficulties eating and sleeping

As part of their care, they may need treatment for these issues.

3. Autism is caused by bad parenting

No one knows exactly what causes autism spectrum disorder. Current research suggests that ASD is due to various factors. This might be genetic (runs in families) and environmental causes. It is worth noting that experts tend to agree that ASD is not a result of poor parenting.

However, having a child with autism can be challenging for families The good thing is there’s support available from many sources and organisations.

4. Autism is caused by vaccines

Vaccinations are important for protecting against serious diseases. Numerous studies have shown there is no link between the MMR vaccine (for Measles, Mumps and Rubella) and developing autism.

Not being protected against these diseases carries serious risks. This includes hearing loss, meningitis and issues during pregnancy. So it’s important for parents to get their children vaccinated.

5. People with autism have no sense of humour

You may think that because a person with autism doesn’t laugh at a joke, they lack a sense of humour. It’s important to first remember that we all find different things funny. Also, individuals with autism can struggle to recognise social cues. So, unless they find a joke funny, they may not laugh in the same way that neurotypical people may do (just to be polite). Also, people on the autism spectrum may not understand certain jokes due to often taking things literally.

6. Individuals with autism can’t form relationships

Individuals with autism can have trouble with social interaction and communication. This makes it challenging for them to form relationships with others. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

From a young age, some children with autism may ‘shy away’ from other children or lack interest in them. Other children with autism may want friends but struggle with making and maintaining friendships. This may continue into adolescence and adulthood, resulting in feelings of loneliness.

It’s important to remember that autism is a spectrum condition. This means that different people are affected differently, and every person along the spectrum is different. It is possible for people with autism to have relationships. This includes friends, colleagues, as well as intimate relationships with others. They may need additional support and interventions to learn the skills needed.

7. All people with autism have learning disabilities

As mentioned above, autism is a spectrum condition. Some people with autism may also have a learning disability. As people with ASD can have very focused interests, they may do very well academically. But children with ASD may also need support in school, or they may need to attend education outside of school.

8. Autism can be cured

There isn’t a cure for autism spectrum disorder – it’s something that you have for life. However, there are ways to manage the challenges that come with having this condition. This involves suitable interventions and support. And also managing any physical and mental health issues. With effective support, people with autism can have improved independence and quality of life.

Educating yourself about ASD is the best way to avoid misconceptions. If you’d like to find out more, there are charities and organisations specialising in autism, such as the National Autism Society.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

profile picture of Deirdre Concannon
Deirdre Concannon
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist



Rasheda Begum, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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