Fact: Many unproven alternative therapies have been touted as possible cures for autism, including diets, vitamins, and chelation, a process which supposedly removes mercury from the body, but includes potentially deadly liver and kidney damage in its side effects. There is no cure for autism, but it is true that intensive behavioral treatment helps kids develop communication and social skills they lack. Medicine can also be effective, not to treat the core symptoms of autism but to reduce problematic behaviors, such as violent tantrums.
Fact: Ever since scientific paper published in 1998-and almost immediately debunked-suggested a link between childhood vaccinations and autism, there has been a widespread perception that vaccines are the culprit. There is no evidence that autism and vaccines are linked in any way, but the idea has undermined parents' confidence in the safety of vaccines. A surge in unvaccinated children, in turn, has led to outbreaks of other childhood diseases that were previously under control.
Fact: Autism was once believed to be the result of "cold mothers," who did not love their children and caused their children to become withdrawn and unresponsive. This is a myth. Autism is now known to be a neurodevelopmental disorder, with what are thought to be genetic and perhaps environmental origins.
Fact: There has been a significant surge in diagnoses (jumping up nearly 1800% from 1992 to 2008), but experts question whether increase reflects a higher incidence of the disorder, or rather increased public awareness of symptoms of autism, more media attention, and better diagnostic tools. Some experts also attribute the increase in to the redefinition of autism, including a wider range of individuals on the spectrum.
Fact: We've heard the stories-child savants who can calculate huge numbers in their heads and have photographic memories. But these stories give the false impression that all children with autism have these special skills. Most children on the spectrum, even the highest functioning end do not show extraordinary math talent. What is true is that children with an ASD exhibit intense interests in particular subjects, and may accrue a great deal of information about it.
Fact: What children with autism lack is not feelings, it's the skills involved in expressing and communicating those feelings, and the ability to recognize feelings in others.
Fact: While many children on the spectrum do have cognitive impairment, many, especially those on the "high functioning" end, do not, and it's not a part of the ASD diagnosis.