Autism Is Not Contagious

Any time something is misunderstood, it is feared. Autism is no different. People fear it. While great strides have been made in the public’s awareness of Autism much confusion remains.

The nature of Autism doesn’t help. It is not a clear cut disorder. Autism is actually a spectrum of disorders. Autism Spectrum Disorders can range from severe to relatively mild.

In fact, it is not uncommon for there to be disagreement about whether or not a child is actually on the Autistic spectrum. Obviously that happens in the milder cases, but it does happen.

The Label of Autism Changes Everything
Some people hear the word Autism and freak out. Parents who had been hanging out and letting their children play together all of a sudden start acting weird when they find out the other child has Autism. Never mind that everything was fine until they heard the label.

While it is unfair, in some respects it is understandable. If you read my recent article about “Us and Them” you have some concept of why this happens. Humans naturally segregate the people they meet into groups of “like us” and “like them”. And being like them means you can’t be one of us.

Parents want nothing more than to protect their children. They want them to fit in. Part of fitting in is not having behaviors that are deemed quirky by the group.

Of course, children pick up quirky behaviors no matter who they are around. Let’s face it, when you get down to it, we’re all a little quirky to someone. A child with Autism just makes an easy scapegoat. Sure in some cases they have a lot of quirky behaviors. However, the fact remains, Autism is not contagious.

While the causes of Autism remain shrouded in mystery, one thing we do know is that you can’t catch it like a cold. You’re not going to end up on the spectrum just because you spend time with someone who is.

The Wrong Assumption About Autism
Children do learn a lot through modeling. However, it’s wrong to assume that just because a child has Autism your child will pick up a negative behavior. It’s also wrong to assume that a child with Autism can’t pick up an unwanted behavior from a child who isn’t on the spectrum. They can. I know my daughter has a few catch-phrases and behaviors that some parents would undoubtedly frown upon. All kids do. No one is perfect.

Part of the bias against Autism comes from a preconceived notion about what Autism actually is. Generally we hear about the most severe characteristics that can be present with Autism. And while I’m not saying that justifies a bias against those with severe Autism, I am saying that is not a fair characterization of the entire spectrum.

Some adults with Autism argue that they are disabled more by the view society holds of them than by Autism itself. To me, that is a very powerful statement. It says a lot about how we as a society are treating those with Autism. It also says a lot about the shortcomings of labels.

The Problem With Labels
Labels can bring a sense of order and understanding; however, they can also bring preconceived limits and stigmas.

While there is something to be said for being able to identify something and categorize it, there is also something to be said for not being hamstrung by what you or others think you are suppose to be.

I hope you’ll keep that in mind the next time you hear any label and especially that of Autism. While it is not very well understood, Autism is not contagious. We need to be careful not to treat those who have it as if it is. We need to keep an open mind and get past the label.

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Jason Marrs

Jason Marrs is the Director of Research and Awareness for the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. Read More