Autism Fact Vs Fiction

With so many myths surrounding autism, it’s not surprising that many autistic people describe feeling misunderstood. We want to address those barriers with ‘autism fact v fiction’, written by autistic people living in Scotland.

Myth: Autism is a mental health condition

Not true. Autism is actually a neurological difference – MRI scans show distinctions in the ways that autistic and non-autistic brains receive and process information.

However, many autistic people do develop mental health problems. Approximately 40% of autists have at least one anxiety disorder and the proportion of those who experience depression is higher amongst autistic people.

Mental health issues and anxiety are not inherent in autistic people and can often stem from a lack of understanding e.g. feeling pressure to fit into ‘normal’ life. Whilst autism is an intrinsic part of who a person is, depression for example, is no more a part of an autistic person’s personality than it would be for a non-autistic person.

Source: The Royal College of Psychiatrists

Myth: Autism mainly affects young children

False. Neither age, gender nor ethnicity matter – people are born autistic. Some autistic people don’t get a diagnosis until adulthood, but they have still been autistic their whole lives.

Many autistic adults try to hide  their autism as they feel they can’t be the real version of themselves for fear of judgement and lack of understanding. Find out more about masking.

Myth: Everyone’s a little autistic

Not true. This is a common misconception. Some people have autistic characteristics e.g. being hyper-focused or rigid in routines, but that doesn’t make them autistic.

Autism is about how the brain works. How you think and communicate; how you process information; differences in sensory experiences. Autistic and non-autistic people share many of the same characteristics, but autistic people see and experience the world in a fundamentally different way.

If you’d like to find out more, or think that you or your child may be autistic, you can get further information on our support page.

Myth: All autistic people have a learning disability

False. This is not true. Current research1 shows that over two thirds of autistic people don’t have learning disabilities or learning difficulties. However, many autistic people do have learning differences – a different way of learning. And this shouldn’t be viewed as negative: it might mean a greater ability to read as a young child or a way to identify patterns more easily.

Like everybody else, autistic individuals are just that: individuals. Some might require extra support – educational, employment or emotional – but this differs from person-to-person, just like non-autistic people.

Myth: You can tell someone is autistic by looking at them

Not true. There are autistic people in all walks of life; in different professions, of different ages, genders, ethnicities and religions. Autism doesn’t have ‘a look’. Nor does it always have visible, identifying characteristics, and when it does, they don’t apply to all autistic people.

Lived Experiences

Myth: Autistic people like to be on their own, they’re anti-social

Misleading. This may be true of some autistic people, but it’s certainly not true of all. Just like some non-autistic people love socialising, whereas others would prefer a quiet night in with a book.

Some autistic people can find socialising more tiring than non-autistic people if they feel the need to suppress their autism to ‘blend in’. Where this is the case, it can take some autists time to recover their energy after socialising. But they’re not being anti-social; if anything, they’re actively making an effort to socialise.

Myth: Autistic people cannot show empathy

Not true. Many autistic people feel extreme empathy for others but may respond in a way that non-autistic people would not. For example, by sharing a similar experience of their own to indicate solidarity, by offering practical help, or by freezing and doing nothing because they’re unsure how to respond in a way that’s wanted or required in the situation.

Myth: Autism can be cured

False. autism is not an illness. Being autistic is part of who a person is, like their eye colour, and not something that can be changed or grown out of.

Each day autistic people navigate the world they experience – its challenges and positives. Some develop strategies and skills to do this on their own and some need support. Increased acceptance and understanding of autism are what’s needed, not a ‘cure’.

Myth: Autistic people always have other conditions

Not always. But more than half of autistic people have co-occurring conditions that can accompany autism.

Common conditions generally fall into one of four categories:

  • Classic medical issues, such as epilepsy or sleep disorders;
  • Developmental diagnoses, such as language delay;
  • Mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression;
  • Genetic conditions including Fragile X Syndrome.

Asperger’s is becoming more well-known, but this syndrome sits within autism and is not a separate diagnosis.

NHS Inform has more information on different autism profiles and co-occurring conditions.

Myth: All autistic people have special skills like Rainman

This isn’t true either. A small percentage of autistic people are savants, which means they have mathematical skills beyond compare or can produce incredible artwork. However, most are regular folk.

You can argue that experiencing the world in a different way – if embraced and understood – can bring something brilliant to every aspect of life. In which case then yes, this is a special skill.

Myth: Autism wasn’t around when I was at school.­­

Not true. You don’t just become autistic overnight. You are born autistic. At school you may not have been aware of the neurodiversity around you. Many autistic adults today were not diagnosed until well after they had finished their education. That doesn’t mean that autism wasn’t around when you were at school. It simply means that we didn’t recognise that it was there.

Some autistic people can put on a mask during school or work to try to blend in with other non-autistic people. Known as masking, this can be very tiring and takes a lot of effort. However, some autistic people are skilled at masking and do it to feel comfortable in everyday life. It is an individual choice. Read more about masking.

Myth: All autistic people are the same

False. No two autistic individuals share the exact same characteristics, just like no two non-autistic individuals are the exact same. It is important to dispel many of the stereotypes and myths around autism. Autistic people are not all Savants and are not machines devoid of emotions.

Each autistic person has their own set of challenges and strengths just like everyone else. There is not one key defining characteristic/trait/strength/challenge that you will find in every single autistic person in the world.

Myth: Autistic people can’t work as part of a team.

Not true. Many autistic people enjoy working as part of a team.

Often autistic people have a different communication style to many others which can lead to misunderstandings. Some autistic people can find it challenging to interpret other people’s behaviours and find it harder to read between the lines. Many autistic people are usually very honest and forthright and what they say is what they mean.

A lot of miscommunication and confusion can be easily prevented.

Set clear objectives in the team. Have team-working processes where everybody can have their turn to be listened to without the need to push hard to be heard. Communication between autistic and non-autistic people works best when people are direct and clear and don’t rely on the interpretation of facial expressions and body language.

Just like any team that works well together clear communication is key. That is true of autistic and non-autistic people at work.

Autism Myth busting leaflet

Each of the myths within this booklet have been addressed directly by autistic people living in Scotland. You can download the leaflet here and print at home or pick up a copy in your local library.


Autistic people are all the same

There is a broad spectrum of people who are autistic, and even though many may share similar traits – no two autistic people are the same…

Autistic People Can’t Work As Part Of A Team

A very common misconception many people have is that autistic people are very controlling and uncompromising and so cannot work together with other people. This is an amusingly inaccurate idea to say the least.

There weren’t autistic people when I was at school

Well, as an autistic person in their 40s I can assure you - we were there. Many of us were not diagnosed or identified as autistic but we were most definitely there.

My Magic

Watch Wendy Ferguson share her poem on the subject of normality.

Why I Came Out Publicly About Being Autistic

Autistic people come in all shapes and sizes, colours, and textures and I for one am delighted with that fact!

A New Understanding of Myself

My son was diagnosed autistic at age four. Researching his condition helped me understand more about myself.

What Kindness Means to Me

Some things done in the name of kindness can be harmful. Here’s how such experiences have impacted autistic friends, family, and myself.

My Lived Experience

Asking me to talk about ‘my experience of autism’ is as odd as being asked what my experience is of having blue eyes.


Masking has become much more talked about as understanding of autism grows. But what is it, why do we do it, and what is the impact?

An Undiagnosed Autistic Life

A childhood full of confusion and fear. Loving family, but so often misunderstood.

What knowing I am autistic means to me

After 39 and a half years of not knowing what made me tick, why I communicated and behaved the way I did, I finally got confirmation that I am autistic.

My Autistic Journey

For years I have struggled to comfortably fit in, understand people, and be myself.

Growing Up Undiagnosed

I was diagnosed as autistic eleven years ago at age 21. I had spent my entire life feeling different, not quite fitting in, but not knowing why.

Trusting What Remains

I struggle to trust my processing of this world, but I’ve found other feelings to rely on.