Science debunks fad autism theories, but that doesn’t dissuade believers

 

With autism, we sometimes see what we want to see

Appearance shapes how we view autism. Children with autism do not have the distinctive facial markers of, say, children with Down Syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome. That fact might lead some to assume that individuals with autism are cognitively and emotionally normal individuals trapped inside a malfunctioning body. If that is so, all that is presumably required is an intervention, such as facilitated communication, to unlock their unrealized mental potential.

The popularity of autism fads imparts two sobering lessons. First, we can all be misled by the raw data of our sensory impressions. Virtually all autism misconceptions stem largely from what psychologists call naïve realism, the error of placing uncritical trust in our unfiltered observations. Second, scientists need to play a more active role in combating false information about autism and other mental disorders.

When researchers conduct studies that dispel the alleged dangers of vaccines or the alleged effectiveness of pseudoscientific treatments, they may assume that their job is done. That’s not the case. The legacy of autism fads suggests that their real work may have only just begun.


Tristram Smith’s study “Empirically supported and unsupported treatments for autism spectrum disorders” appeared in the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 2008; 6:3–21.The Conversation

About the author

Scott O Lilienfeld is Professor of Psychology at Emory University.

 

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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