EMILY LE COZ: Common myths about autism exposed

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

Last week’s media coverage of a statewide autism report sparked some shocking public comments that reveal how few people understand this disorder.
As the mother of a child with autism, and as the chair of the Mississippi Autism Advisory Committee which issued the report, I’d like to shed light on these common misconceptions.
• Myth No. 1 – Autism is just an overblown diagnosis given to children whose parents don’t discipline them enough.
• Truth No. 1 – Children with autism likely appear undisciplined because parents can’t instill good manners in those who cannot communicate and who lack awareness of social norms. Autism impairs a person’s ability to talk and understand language – spoken, written or sign. It also robs a person of the ability to read social cues, including facial expressions and gestures.
People with autism also often engage in repetitive behaviors – like rocking and hand flapping – and have very narrow and limited interests.
But because they don’t physically look any different than their typically developing peers, it’s understandable that people might at first mistake them for ill-mannered kids. After spending a few moments with these children, however, their autism often becomes quite apparent – and it has nothing to do with discipline or a lack thereof.
• Myth No. 2 – Autism is a childhood disorder.
• Truth No. 2 – Autism is a lifelong disorder that first appears before the age of 3. There is no known cause, and no known cure. But early and intensive intervention can vastly improve a person’s ability to function normally in society. Some children have been known to lose their diagnosis altogether thanks to interventions.
• Myth No. 3 – Autism advocates are overstating the seriousness of the epidemic; Mississippi doesn’t need to do anything to address this.
• Truth No. 3 – The number of children with autism in Mississippi has jumped more than 300 percent in the past eight years alone. And if history is any indication, these figures will continue to rise.
Nobody knows why more people are being diagnosed. What we do know is that Mississippi has done little to catch up with the problem. The state lacks a reliable network of early intervention providers. It also lacks sufficient teacher training to educate these children in the public schools. And it lacks the resources to handle this population into adulthood.
It’s estimated that every person with autism costs society $3.2 million over their lifetime. Today, Mississippi has more than 8,100 children with autism – the number of adults is harder to determine. If we don’t work together to rehabilitate this population while they’re young, we face a $26 billion crisis in the next few decades. This is indeed a community problem.
• Myth No. 4 – There’s nothing I can do about it.
• Truth No. 4 – Yes, there is. You can educate yourself. To learn more about autism, visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.