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12 Modern Autism Myths Explained & Debunked

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Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurological and developmental disorder affecting about 3.05% of U.S. children aged 3–17, according to 2021 stats. Despite the growing awareness and faster diagnosis of ASD, myths and misconceptions about autism are still affecting many families and individuals.

In this article, we’ll explore and debunk some of the most common autism myths, look into the reasons why some people believe them, and explain the facts about the condition.

Top 10 Myths About Autism for 2024

  1. Autism is a modern illness.
  2. Autism can be cured.
  3. Autism is caused by bad parenting.
  4. Vaccines cause autism.
  5. A gluten-free diet can cure autism.
  6. Girls usually don’t get autism.
  7. All people with autism are geniuses.
  8. Autistic people lack empathy.
  9. Autistic people can’t form loving relationships.
  10. Autistic people are violent.

6 General Myths About ASD 

1. Autism is a modern illness.

(NCBI, Smithsonian Magazine)

Due to social media and overall easier sharing of information, many people believe that autism is an epidemic that has only recently appeared. In addition, some may even think that the modern lifestyle leads to the development of autism. However, the real truth about autism is that it has been around for a while. 

The term was first coined by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 to describe a patient who was withdrawn and antisocial. It was then used by UK psychologists, psychoanalysts, and psychiatrists throughout the 1920s. However, children with behaviors that could be associated with autism have been described in studies dating as far back as 1799.

2. Autism can be cured.

(Life on the Autism Spectrum)

The myth stems from the fact that there are different types of therapies that can reduce the severity of the symptoms and help individuals improve their quality of life. Some of those improvements can be quite drastic, leading to the belief that the cure for autism is possible. 

Comprehensive medical research has shown that autism is not an illness, and thus, autism cannot be cured—and many argue whether it even should be cured, as it perpetuates the idea that being neurotypical is the only way to have a fulfilling life. 

Instead, autistic advocates emphasize the need for support and services that would allow them to thrive by embracing their differences rather than suppressing them.

3. Autism is caused by bad parenting.

(Life on the Autism Spectrum)

One of the earliest misconceptions about autism is that it’s caused by poor parenting, or rather, the failure of parents to form a bond with their child during the first few months of the child’s life. It’s also known as the “refrigerator mother” myth, implying that autism was caused by mothers being cold towards their children and uninterested in their needs. 

Those early theories were formed around the idea that autistic children simply had to be “damaged” in some way. Subsequent research has proven this myth wrong, demonstrating that autism is intrinsic and not caused by anything that happens after the child’s birth. 

Still, it’s not unusual for parents to experience guilt after learning about their child’s diagnosis. Consequently,  the need for support exists not just for autistic children but for their parents too.

4. Vaccines cause autism.

(Life on the Autism Spectrum)

One of the most popular — and most harmful — misconceptions about autism is that it is caused by vaccines kids receive during early childhood. 

A 1998 study led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield addressed 12 children who allegedly developed a new phenotype of autism after receiving MMR vaccination. Although there have been small-scale and inconclusive studies on the topic before, this one gained a lot more media attention, leading to a more serious impact.

This autism and vaccines myth led to a sharp decline in vaccination rates, which consequently led to an increase in the cases of measles and mumps. 

Unfortunately, despite multiple researchers proving Wakefield’s findings wrong, journalists pointing out that Wakefield didn’t disclose his conflict of interest, and Wakefield eventually losing his medical license, the myth continues to harm children even today. 

5. Girls usually don’t get autism.


While it is true that girls are 4.2 times less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys according to the newest facts about autism, it is still a common occurrence. 

One reason for this difference is the fact that girls are more often misdiagnosed when they have ASD as they are more likely to camouflage their symptoms. 

Moreover, research has shown that the criteria for ASD diagnosis were mainly based on the behavior of male patients, which is another possible reason for such autism stereotypes.

6. A gluten-free diet can cure autism.

(NCBI, NCBI, Sportskeeda)

One of the most unusual myths is the gluten autism myth. The origin of this myth can be found in some recent bestselling books claiming that gluten-rich grains may not only lead to obesity, but can also cause numerous medical issues, like anxiety, depression, and autism. 

Studies have shown that children with ASD may experience gastrointestinal problems, and they are also more likely to suffer from increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and other digestive issues. Moreover, food selectivity and food refusal are well-known symptoms of autism. For these reasons, many parents believe that specific dietary restrictions can improve the symptoms of autism or even cure the condition entirely.

On the one hand, the exact reasons for food selectivity in children with ASD and the effect of specific dietary interventions require further research. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that restrictive diets, such as the gluten-free diet, are not scientifically approved treatments and can be harmful due to being low in other important nutrients, like fiber. They should not be implemented without consulting medical professionals. 

5 Most Common Myths Autistic People Deal With

7. Having high-functioning autism means they’re “normal.”

(Psychology Today, ALSC Blog)

ASD is a spectrum, which means that some autistic people may seemingly struggle less than others. However, just because a person appears “normal” and doesn’t exhibit any behavior that could be associated with autism, it doesn’t mean their diagnosis is less real. It only means that their symptoms were less severe from the beginning — and that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning how to manage them.

Many high-functioning autistic people emphasize the conscious effort it takes to appear neurotypical and the uniqueness of the experience. For them, “You don’t look autistic” is not a compliment—it reminds them of the performance they have to do every day, just to fit in more easily.

8. All people with autism are geniuses.

(Life on the Autism Spectrum)

There are a few possible origins of high-functioning autism misconceptions, one of them being a media portrayal of autistic people. Most films and TV shows present autistic people as savants who may be “slightly awkward” in social environments. However, not everyone is Elon Musk, and research shows that only a small percentage of autistic people possess such remarkable abilities. 

The prevalence of this myth may place unrealistic expectations on kids with autism and lead to unfair categorization, which can affect their access to support and funding. This is why it’s important to keep in mind that autism is a spectrum, and having seemingly normal or exceptional external characteristics should not diminish the internal challenges people with high-functioning autism face.

9. People with autism dislike being touched.


Many people believe that avoiding physical contact is one of the main signs of autism. While it is true that some autistic individuals may be sensitive to physical sensations and thus prefer not to be touched, there are also people with autism who may enjoy hugs, high-fives, and other forms of mild touch. 

10. Autistic people lack empathy.

(Life on the Autism Spectrum, ALSC Blog)

Some of the main symptoms of autism include difficulties with social communication, repetitive behaviors that may include the use of language and sounds, and the inability to follow another person’s gaze or share the person’s attention on an item or activity. These traits lead to autism misconceptions about their lack of ability to feel empathy.

Multiple studies have shown that while autistic people may have lower cognitive empathy than non-autistic individuals, their affective empathy is similar

This means that they may have difficulty recognizing the mental state of others, but once they understand how the other person is feeling, they are able to respond appropriately. 

11. Autistic people can’t form loving relationships.

(ASDS, One Central Health)

One myth often leads to another, and the previous two common myths about autism make many people think that autistic people can’t have genuine relationships.

Autistic people often struggle with interpreting body language and other people’s emotions, which may impact their ability to connect with people — but not their interest. In other words, they tend to express their feelings differently due to perceiving their environment in a unique way, but they are perfectly capable of experiencing and showing affection, and thus, having meaningful and loving relationships. 

12. Autistic people are violent.

(ASDS, One Central Health, WTS Global)

Although it is true that some autistic individuals may occasionally react in a way that seems harsh and aggressive, this is almost always a sign of sensory overload or emotional discomfort, not violent intentions per se. 

Studies have shown that when violent individuals are diagnosed with ASD, it is usually accompanied by comorbid psychiatric conditions that increase the risk of violence, and they usually have a history of neglect and/or abuse. Overall, research has shown that autistic people are no more violent than others. On the contrary — they are more likely to be victims of violence.


Having your child diagnosed with autism, or being diagnosed yourself, is never easy — and knowing there are so many common misconceptions about autism only makes the process more stressful. This is why spreading awareness and educating people around us is an essential step in making the world a more understanding place for neurodivergent individuals.


Do autistic people lie?

Contrary to the popular myth that autism implies blunt honesty, research has shown that autistic people are able to and do deceive others. However, they don’t do so as often or as skillfully as some neurotypical people, and they may need more time to get better at it.

Are autistic people childish?

Most autistic people tend to have some hobbies or interests that would be expected of much younger individuals. They also may behave in a way a child would, depending on the severity of their symptoms. 

The main reasons for this are the core traits of autism:

These characteristics can make some autistic people seem childish. However, with the right support and therapy, there are ways to help them behave in a more age-appropriate way without sacrificing their joy.

What does high-functioning autism look like?

Although not an official term, a high-functioning type of autism usually refers to autistic people who can live independently or with some limited assistance. 

Being high-functioning means that their symptoms aren’t as impactful, and they often “appear normal.” However, they may still struggle with social interactions and sensory overload. They usually require some levels of routine, and they may have some repetitive or restrictive habits. 

In general, there isn’t one way to describe them, as the experience of each autistic individual is unique regardless of the severity of their symptoms.



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