10 Myths About Autism

Myth: Autism can be cured.

Some parents may allude to a certain diet, medicine, or set of behavioral treatments that have cured their autistic children, where other parents may try the same mode of treatment and see no results. While there are treatments created to improve an autistic child's ability, there is no known cure for autism.

"We do know that with early intervention with younger children and Applied Behavioral Analysis, we can improve a child's functioning," said Marion.

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is one form of therapy for newly diagnosed children. It includes repeating behavioral activities to improve a child's social and physical functions.

According to Marion, there is no blanket treatment for autism, and it is up to the individual's doctor to assess what treatment will offer the best benefit for each autistic child.

In some cases, Marion said, behaviors, including eye contact, interaction with others and development of language skills, will significantly improve -- but the underlying biological disorder will not change.

"And that is definitely not a cure," he said.

Myth: Autism is the result of cold and unemotional parents.

In the 1940s, Austrian doctor Bruno Bettelheim theorized that autism was a result of parents, especially mothers, who did not love their children. Children in such situations would withdraw and become autistic, Bettelheim believed.

However, researchers have thawed the "refrigerator mother" theory. According to medical experts, a child's autism diagnosis has nothing to do with how the child is raised.

"We don't know if there are any things that a parent can do or not do, conclusively, will determine whether their child gets autism or not," said Dr. Daniel Geshwind, director of UCLA's neurogenetics program and center for autism research. "Most of the evidence right now points to there being a very strong genetic predisposition in most cases of autism, but not all."

Myth: Individuals with autism always have hidden or exceptional talents.

Stephen Wiltshire, 34, is best known as the human camera. He can replicate architectural designs and landscapes down to each blade of grass -- even if he is only given one opportunity to observe the area he is drawing. Wiltshire has reproduced panoramic scenes of Tokyo, Rome and London by memory after one short helicopter ride over each of the cities.

Wiltshire is an autistic savant. That is, he has extraordinary cognitive skills that allow him to recall details of designs, numbers and measurements that are normally considered too difficult to remember.

The concept of an autistic individual as a savant may have been popularized by Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie "Rain Man."

But while Marion acknowledges that there is a minority group of individuals with autism who have unusual islets of skills, savants are an unrealistic portrayal of the majority of individuals on the spectrum. He said most do not have talents or skills that distinguish themselves by extraordinary talents.

"There are strengths and weaknesses in every child," said Marion. "It's important for every child with autism to have a multidisciplinary evaluation by health professionals who have experience in assessing a child's skills and deficits, to come up with an educational plan that will benefit the child the most."

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