Mable Mythbusters: World Autism Awareness Day 2024

Kory Sherland stands smiling with her hands on her waist


Mable Mythbusters: World Autism Awareness Day 2024

As a late-identified autistic woman, who spent the first 35 years not knowing she was autistic, I know all too well some of the myths about autism and autistic people. It’s my mission to ensure that the next generation, and those who have grown up unsupported, do not miss out on the support they need to live well and achieve their goals.

Knowledge is power. The more we know, the more we can provide informed and tailored support that enables people to live empowered lives.

There are still many myths surrounding autism. It’s important we bust those myths to help spread awareness, and advocate for autism acceptance and inclusion.

Myth: Autism only affects children

Fact: Autistic children become autistic adults. Autism is not a disease. It is a neurotype that comes with specific strengths and challenges. Each autistic person has a unique brain and therefore individualised needs. As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person”. This means, don’t generalise, get to know the individual and throw biases in the bin. Many people, like me, get diagnosed as an adult.

Myth: Autistic adults don’t need as much support as children

Fact: Have you noticed how many services there are for autistic children? It’s as if autistic adults don’t exist. Newsflash: we do.

Being an adult comes with its challenges for everyone. So, it’s logical that autistic adults are going to need support to navigate the initial transition into adulthood and other life stages in addition to various day-to-day supports.

We need a lot more allied health and other professionals to fill this gap in services. We also need general awareness to increase so that autistic adults can not only get the professional support they need, but also the social, community, and family support they need.

Myth: All autistic people have intellectual disability and are non-speaking

Fact: Autism and intellectual disability are two separate conditions. Being non-speaking is not required to get an autism diagnosis. In fact, lots of autistic people can speak well and many are public speakers who have done TED talks.

Myth: Autism is more common in boys and men

Fact: Autism is not gender specific. The stereotypes portrayed in the media, on TV, and in movies have perpetuated this stereotype. It’s so widespread that even some health professionals will reinforce this stereotype, meaning girls, women and non-binary people can struggle to get a diagnosis.

Myth: Autism has become an epidemic

Fact: With greater awareness comes more diagnosis of people who have been missed by the system, namely, girls, women, non-binary people, people living in rural and regional areas, people from non-white cultural backgrounds and older people.

We are in catch-up mode, that’s all.

Information is power and thanks to the autistic community being visible on social media, the Internet and TV, awareness of the diversity among the autistic population has increased.

Also, let’s be clear that the definition of ‘epidemic’ refers to a disease, usually an infectious disease. Autism is not a disease. You can’t catch autism. The media has a significant role to play here in resisting the urge to create click-baity headlines using the words ‘epidemic’ and ‘autism’ in the same sentence, and it needs to stop. It is factually incorrect and isn’t helping anyone at all.

If you overhear someone saying false statements about autism, sharing the facts can be a great help. When more people join in, it creates a positive ripple effect that can lead to better outcomes for autistic individuals in all aspects of life including health, wellbeing, employment, social, community acceptance, and inclusion.

Thank you for reading and for being an ally.

Kory Sherland (she/her) is a freelance writer and the founder of Autie Talk: an employment coaching service to neurodivergent teens and adults. Autie Talk also offers neuro-affirming practices training to employers and service providers through team training and online professional development programs.