The More You Know

16 Moms On The Common Myths About Their Autistic Kids

What they want you to know this Autism Acceptance Month, and beyond.

A little girl who is autistic on a swing at a playground
Annie Otzen/Getty

April is Autism Acceptance Month, and to honor it, we asked our mom followers who have children with autism about the most common misconceptions or myths about autism they hear or experience about their kids. Here, in their own words, are what they have to share. A note: We use “person-first” language here at Scary Mommy (i.e., a child with autism) but are aware many prefer identity-first language (i.e., autistic person).

Myth: Children With Autism Aren’t Smart

"I have two sons with autism. One is 4, and the other is 11. Throughout their entire lives, I have heard this phrase from family members to school staff members: 'But he's so smart.' To me, it is immediately offensive, as it ignores all the struggles, the meltdowns, the therapy sessions, and the self-doubt that go into our daily lives. Parental concerns are boiled down to that if a child is 'smart,' they clearly can't have this challenge. It always makes my teeth grind to think that because both boys academically function at a level of neurotypical peers, they are still judged as if their tics and reactions are a choice. Autism is a spectrum. It is important to be kind because kids are more than the sum of academic success." — Ashley

"A common misconception is that a person with autism can't learn a new language. When my child was diagnosed at 3, he was non-verbal. Now at 7, he is fluent in both English and French, despite growing up in an English-speaking home. He is in French immersion school and has flourished. His reading and comprehension level is higher than most at his age — in both languages. So just because it may be a challenge doesn't mean it will be impossible." — Roseanne

"I'm the mother of a 5-year-old autistic girl, and one of the misconceptions is that because she's preverbal, she isn't intelligent or doesn't understand what people are saying to her when that couldn't be further from the truth." — Lindsay

"One thing I've noticed is that sometimes people act like those who have autism are stupid. It ticks me off. My son will be 18 in May. He has severe autism. He's also non-verbal. People often treat him like he isn't smart. The thing is, he is smart. I mean, unlikely to grade level or anything like that, but he can write anything he cares about, he knows some sign language for things that matter, he has an amazing memory… an unbelievable, amazing memory. He can follow complex clicks through chains of photos and videos online to find exactly what he wants to show people. He is resourceful. When he wants to share something, he finds a way to help people understand. But he also has self-injury behaviors, OCD, and anxiety. I think if he didn't have the OCD and anxiety, his autism isn't really severe. He knows when people are being mean to him or they don't like him. He's never had a friend outside his classroom. I just wish people could be more kind and understanding… and tolerant." — Jenny

Myth: Children With Autism Aren’t Social

"Key misconceptions for my kid is that autistics are not social. My kid craves connection, but his way of expressing it may not look the way that you're expecting it to. It can be so very lonely when your communication style is different. I wish people would spend more time figuring out how to communicate with autistics rather than expecting them to do all the work of learning how to communicate with neurotypicals." — Vicky

"My daughter is autistic; she is 5, diagnosed at 4. She is and always has been the most outgoing friendliest kid ever. She has always been able to go up to anyone and start talking to them, asking them questions, etc. People tell me she doesn't 'look' autistic because she's not frightened of social interaction." — Gemma

Myth: Children With Autism Are A Monolith

“Just because they don’t “look autistic” doesn’t mean they aren’t. Also don’t try and tell me some new fad that is going to help cure him. It won’t. And don’t say crap about vaccines or Tylenol or whatever saying it caused him to have autism.” — Kayla

"I am the parent of a 4-1/2-year-old autistic boy, and the biggest misconception surrounding autistic children is that they're all similar. Every single person on the autism spectrum has a unique profile. What I want people to know is that autistic children are valid and worthy of love and acceptance exactly as they are. They will learn in their own unique way and at their own pace, and they learn best in an environment with support and acceptance for their specific profile of needs." — Leslie

"I am a non-autistic parent of an autistic child. I would like others to know that to understand autism and make our world a truly more embracing, inclusive place, it is critical to center autistic voices. Whether it's an article, a policy decision, research, services... if autistic voices are not prioritized, we're getting it wrong. Bear in mind, too, that there are a lot of autistic parents of autistic kids — and they, along with other autistic people, can teach us a lot because of their lived experience." — Kristen

"1: That being autistic means low IQ. It's actually average with many high IQ individuals. 2: That it's mostly boys. Girls are grossly under-diagnosed. 3: That an autistic child will never be independent. Autistic children grow into autistic adults, and functioning depends heavily on supports and accommodations." — Marin

“When I tell people my son has autism, very often their reaction is surprise, then reassurance to me that he doesn’t seem autistic. Sometime I get ‘wow, he doesn’t look like he has autism.’ Or, someone will offer me the ‘encouragement’ of ‘oh no, you can’t even tell’. These are meant as positive responses? While I understand the best intentions are behind these comments, I can’t help but take offense. First of all, what does autism look like? Is it supposed to a distinguishable look to set my son apart from his peers? When they say that you can’t tell he has autism, it makes me wonder, what in the world is wrong with people knowing he has autism? His brain isn’t broken, it is just different than a neurotypical brain. His autism is part of what makes James James. I wouldn’t change a thing about him. His autism is part of what makes him awesome.” — Sarah

Myth: Neurodivergent Children Aren’t The Same As Neurotypical Kids

"I had a person who has a child with a chronic disease say to me, 'I wish I could snap my fingers and make it disappear. I'm sure you feel that way about your son's autism' — but I don't. Not even close. Many of the things that I love about him are also traits that qualify him as being autistic. If I were to take away his autism, I would take away who he is at his core, and he is incredible just the way he is. If I could remove some of his struggles I certainly would, but I would never in a million years want to change him at such a fundamental level. Instead, I want society to change and become more open and accepting to those who are differently wired, because they have so much to offer!" — Kelly

“That somehow teaching them to mask their Autism is beneficial for them. Nope. Comforting for others who don't like being around neurodivergent behaviors, really harmful for Autistic individuals that can lead to severe anxiety and depression. Let my kiddo flap, jump, get stuck on sounds and squeal...get comfortable with the fact that not every single person is the same and stop assuming that intelligence is linked to how ‘normal’ you present to society.” — Andrea

"My son is 9 years old and was diagnosed with high functioning autism at 8 years old. I think when he was around age 5 we would start to hear about how aggressive and uncooperative he was. He was failing specials in school because he 'refused to go,' and that wasn't true. It was just that some of it was so very overstimulating for him. We did struggle to get him diagnosed because his grades were above average. I think the biggest thing I want people to know is that he's so caring, smart, and thoughtful. Autism isn't a limit to who he is or what he can achieve. It's simply a framework for us to be able to guide him differently." — Sarah C.

"Even though it is hard for us as parents, I think it's important to remember that it's hard for those with ASD. This world is not designed for people with sensory issues, difficulty communicating, and neurodiverse tendencies. So as you see all of this stuff this month about 'light it up blue' or 'Autism Awareness,' there are some things you can do for those who are affected by this spectrum: Be kind. Always. It's a cliche, but it's true. That mom standing there with a horrified look on her face as her son puts his tongue on the deli window and walks the length of the deli before she can get to him? Laugh with her if she laughs, look away if she looks like she wants to disappear, shrug and say 'kids!' or even tell her she's doing a good job. Because it happens... No kind of reaction is wrong. My son goes through hours of therapy each week to learn how to interact with you and the world around him. Most people with autism do. Always keep that in mind and spend a few minutes working on how you react to him." — Kristina

“Autistic kids do not owe the public their diagnosis. No need for them to carry blue pumpkins at Halloween. Just give out your candy. Stop being judgy.” — Joanne

"I am a mother of two boys that have been diagnosed with autism and a third boy still awaiting an evaluation. Most unrelated people will ask me if flashing lights and really loud sounds bother my boys. In reality, that might be true for some autistic people but not mine. I want people to know, especially family, that I wouldn't change a thing about my babies; they are great! So when I tell you that I have autistic sons, do not apologize or feel bad for me. Educate your kids on why mine is are different and always work on inclusion." — Tracy

"Things I often hear: 'They'll be fine.' This lacks the awareness of the load my child is carrying, the masking, dealing with sensory issues, and communication differences my child is working through every day. What I want them to know: My kids do their best when they are in spaces where they are included and feel safe (just like everyone else). So I want you to know that when you make my kid feel like they belong as they are, the joy our family feels is immeasurable. You may think it is a small thing, but most of the world doesn't accept them for who they are." — Amy

"Autism misconceptions: That it's a disease; that it's curable. Every individual has his/hers specific needs ... That all have cognitive difficulties ... That they are unable to express feelings ... Tantrums are because they are spoiled ... That they will never be able to function in a neurotypical environment, be it school, society, the workforce, or even have families ... That it's a gift. Being autistic is a different way of being human." — Federika

Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.