Know the Facts and Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder

April 09, 2024

autism myths

Getting a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) used to be a frustrating, time-consuming process. But thanks to more awareness of the condition, the expert doctors and nurses at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Neuroscience Center — and parents and caregivers like you — better understand the signs and symptoms of ASD.

When you know the facts about autism, you can help your child get the best care possible.

What is ASD?

Each person with autism experiences the condition in their own way. We know there are many types of ASD, thanks to scientific advances.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. This means there is variation among the challenges, needs and skills for each child with autism. How one child with autism behaves, communicates and interacts differs from how other children with ASD act.

6 Myths About ASD Busted

In recognition of April being Autism Awareness Month, below are six myths busted about ASD by our pediatric neurology experts at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Neuroscience Center: Andres Jimenez Gomez, MD; Cristina Santiago, PsyD; and Jenna Erickson, DNP.

Myth 1: Only neurologists can diagnose autism.

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior or health, talk with your pediatrician, says Dr. Jimenez, medical director, pediatric neurodevelopmental programs at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

“Your pediatrician can initiate a consultation. They can connect you with a neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist. They can also initiate therapies,” Dr. Jimenez says.

Myth 2: An MRI or brain wave tests are required to make a diagnosis.

There is no specific test to diagnose autism, says Jenna Erickson, DNP, pediatric neurology nurse practitioner, at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.

“Your doctor will make a diagnosis during your visit. Your doctor determines if your child needs other tests,” Erickson says.

Myth 3: My child toe walks. Does this mean my child has autism?

Toe walking can be a condition that happens in many situations. It depends on a child’s development, Dr. Jimenez says.

“Toe walking can happen in autism. One single sign does not equal autism,” he says. “It can warrant a referral.”

Myth 4: Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the only therapy for autism.

ABA is one of many available treatments.

"Each child has their own unique needs, and these change over time," says Dr. Santiago, pediatric neuropsychologist at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. We find the right therapies for your child.

“Other evidence-based approaches include cognitive behavior therapy, play therapy, and parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT),” Dr. Santiago says.

Myth 5: There is a cure for autism.

There is no cure for autism, Dr. Santiago says. Yet, people with autism can live active, fulfilling lives.

“Therapies help treat symptoms to improve each person’s quality of life and maximize their independence,” she says.

Myth 6: Vaccines can cause autism.

Research confirms the safety of vaccines, Erickson says.

“Autism is most likely caused by a combination of environmental, biological, and genetic factors,” Erickson says.

To listen and watch our pediatric neurology experts, check out our Myths About Autism video on our Instagram and Facebook channels.