All sources used in this article are linked directly in the text AND at the end of this post.
Autism is a word, label or diagnosis that comes with different misconceptions and myths.
This is a 3-part series to combat some of the most frustrating misconceptions I have dealt with as an Autism-mom.
I am not just my son’s mother and caregiver. I am his advocate! As an advocate, I have taken on the responsibility of learning about Autism as much as possible and give resources and information explained by experts to people who may not know someone on the Spectrum.
Here is Myth #1 out of 3 of the most frustrating one’s I’ve had to deal with so far:
Autism is a Mental Illness
This has got to be one of the most frustrating myths I have heard thus far! Because depending on whom you ask and where you look, the answer ranges from being vague to absolutely confusing. From the perspective of a mother, it was like there is little agreement on what Autism really is. Some argue that Autism is a mental illness, because it is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders- or DSM (this is a tool used by providers to diagnose mental disorders). On the other hand, when I typed Autism into the search engine, I came up with results that said Autism is technically a neuro-developmental disorder.
So, now what?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neuro-developmental disorder, with “symptoms of repetitive behavior and difficulties in social interaction showing in early childhood.”
The University of Rochester Medical Center’s Health Encyclopedia breaks Autism down into being neurological AND developmental. (That is basically the same thing as the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke wrote, right? Or is it?)
OK, now let’s move on to the National Institute of Mental Health, which also lists Autism Spectrum disorder. However, they only mention the developmental part. Well, now I see how misconceptions and myths come about!
But, what I have seen in my personal research over the course of the last few months, is that there are experts in the field looking into structural and functional differences of brains in people with Autism and neurotypical people. This basically means that they research whether, and how, certain parts of the brain grow and work in persons with Autism differently from brains in neurotypical people.
Truth vs Understanding
I think the easiest way to find out whether it is a neurological or mental disorder and to get answers to some of the most pressing questions one may have, is to simply ask!
Ask a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Neurologist, Doctor, Nurse Practitioner, Autism Specialist, or Mental Health Therapist! In most states I’ve been to or read about, there are county and community centers where you can find information. At the very least, this may be a good start to finding answers.
If one person cannot answer a specific question, they may have the ability to point you in the direction of someone who should know.
Either way. If you are in a situation where you need more information and you seem to hit a concrete wall- keep going! –Check out my take on how to deal with family and friends who don’t accept an Autism diagnosis.
Regardless of what the cause of Autism is and whether that makes it a mental illness or neurological disorder (or even a genetic disorder), I find it important to spread awareness, and share resources right now. Maybe one day we will lower (and hopefully, eliminate) any stigma, myth and misconception that comes with Autism!
But most importantly: ASK QUESTIONS!
How involved do you believe parents should be in the diagnosis process?
Disclosure: Everything I share is solely based on my personal experience and is for informational purposes only. This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please view my disclosure policy.
If you, or a loved one, are in a crisis or are in need for medical or mental health attention, please use the appropriate channels to get help.
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc./Genetic Engineering News. (2012, March 21). Autism risk gene linked to differences in brain structure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120321152637.htm
University of Washington. (2009, March 24). Heightened Level Of Amygdala Activity May Cause Social Deficits In Autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 2, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090319132956.htm
Rudy, L. J. (2016). 7 Science-Based Facts We Know About Autism. Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/causes-of-autism-recent-findings-260134
Shriber L. 2010. Autism: A Neurological and Sensory Based Perspective. In: JH Stone, M Blouin, editors. International Encyclopedia of Rehabilitation. Available online: http://cirrie.buffalo.edu/encyclopedia/en/article/285/