Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder typically characterized by language delay, difficulties with social communication, and special interests or repetitive behaviors. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it encapsulates a wide array of symptoms, functioning levels and skills. In this way, every person with autism is different. Although the healthcare field’s understanding of ASD has grown over recent decades, there are several myths about autism that continue to dominate the conversation.
During Autism Awareness Month this April — and every month, for that matter — it’s important for providers to help disseminate accurate information to their communities.
Dispelling myths about autism
Here is the kind of information you can share with patients and the public on your website and other platforms to dispel myths about autism.
1. Autism is caused by vaccines
This myth exists due to a study that was published in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that claims that vaccines cause autism. Due to the extensive media attention that this article received, many still do not know that the article was discredited due to numerous problems with the research design. Several articles have since disproven this claim.
2. Autism only affects boys
Individuals of all genders, race/ethnicities and ages can meet criteria for an autism spectrum disorder. However, more males receive the diagnosis, and this article published in 2017 reports the male-to-female ratio in ASD as three to one.
3. Autism is caused by bad parenting
This myth came to be in the 1940s and ‘50s when psychiatrist Leo Kanner claimed that a “lack of maternal warmth” was related to autism.
This idea led to the development of the “refrigerator mother” theory, which claimed that a lack of affection or warmth from parents was a cause of autism.
This has long been disproved. Although a cause of autism has not yet been identified, researchers now believe that both genetic and environmental factors play a role.
4. People with autism are intellectually disabled
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning those with the diagnosis can have a wide variety of cognitive abilities. Those with more impairments might have lower IQs, yet many individuals with autism have average or above-average IQs.
5. People with autism are antisocial
Because autism is associated with challenges in the area of social communication, people with autism might act differently in social situations. Social interactions might be difficult for some people on the autism spectrum, and thus it can look like they are unengaged or uninterested. In reality, many individuals with ASD desire to be around other people and to cultivate friendships.
You can find additional myths about autism and relevant responses here:
- Autism Speaks web page on myths about autism
- Ambitious with Autism’s article addressing common myths
It’s imperative that accurate, factual information is disseminated to the public to counteract the myths about autism that continue to circulate.
So, how do you get this information to your community?
Here are some creative techniques you can use to disseminate this information to your patients and followers:
1. Create a website and register a domain name
This step only applies to those who don’t already have a website up and running. To get started today, find a reliable web hosting service and register a domain name (i.e., AutismSpeaks.org). Once you have a website, you can implement some of these tips and techniques.
2. Create a resource page for your website
Once you’ve created a resource page, include links to well-established, evidence-based autism sources (see below for a list of these reliable sources). Add share buttons to allow others to spread this information to their networks. To add multiple share buttons for each social network automatically, install a plugin such as Simple Share Buttons Adder.
3. Create a special edition email newsletter
With Autism Awareness Month upon us, create a special edition email newsletter that dispels common myths about autism. Or, create a section of your monthly or weekly newsletter that features one common autism myth and your response that dispels it. If you have yet to establish a newsletter for your website, it’s easy to get started with GoDaddy’s Email Marketing.
4. Develop a “research newsletter”
This research newsletter can feature several peer-reviewed articles about autism. Interpret the research findings for your audience in layperson language, and provide links to the original articles.
5. Write a blog post or series of blog posts
Your blog post or series of posts should list common myths about autism and include links to articles that dispel these myths. Ensure your blog posts are optimized for SEO (search engine optimization) so you can reach audiences seeking out information for myths about autism on search engines. Share your blog on your social media networks in order to expand the reach of your post.
6. Post a picture of your team wearing blue
You can show your support for Autism Awareness Month by wearing blue during the month of April. Gather your team, wear blue, and share the snapshot across all of your networks. Include the hashtag #lightitupblue on your social media sites to partner with Autism Speaks, a leading nonprofit in autism research and awareness.
7. Leverage relevant, trending hashtags
In addition to using #lightitupblue, seek out other hashtags to promote your posts about dispelling myths about autism or general support for autism. Look to include hashtags such as #autismawarenessmonth, #autism, #autismawareness and #breakthestigma in your social media posts to make them visible to others raising awareness. For a complete list of top relevant trending hashtags, go here.
8. Create a video
Create a video of yourself or your team dispelling common myths about autism and share widely to your social media platforms and YouTube channel. Include the hashtags listed above in your video post upon sharing to your networks. Make your own videos using tools such as YouTube or Animoto.
Key sources to reference for accurate information about autism
Use evidence to back up the information you present when dispelling myths about autism. Cite the sources below to show your followers that your answers are grounded in research.
- Google scholar: Use keywords like “autism and vaccines” or “myths about autism” in your Google Scholar searches to see links to empirical, peer-reviewed articles. In some cases, you will be able to download the full article and can post the PDF as an attachment to your newsletter or blog post. If the full article is unavailable, you can read the abstract and post a summary of the research findings to your web page.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s autism fact page: Find facts and up-to-date information on autism causes, treatments, and prevalence.
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)’s web page on autism: Information about the common symptoms of autism and how to be evaluated for the diagnosis.
- Spectrum Daily Autism Report: To receive daily updates and breaking news on autism research, subscribe to this email newsletter followed by many autism experts and researchers.
Dissemination of accurate, current information about autism helps to dispel myths that continue to surround the diagnosis. These resources can be helpful to providers looking to broaden their understanding of autism and might greatly benefit parents seeking information to support their children. By providing this information on your website, in email newsletters and on other platforms, you will promote awareness of autism in your community, creating a positive impact during Autism Awareness Month.