Formerly House with No Steps and The Tipping Foundation
Screen from the movie Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise

10 myths about disability

Movies like Rain Man are responsible for spreading the myth that every person with autism has exceptional gifts. But, this just isn’t accurate. Read on as we bust this myth and many more!

Screen from the movie Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise

These days, people are learning more about disabilities which makes the Aruma team do a little happy dance!

But even so, there are quite a few stubborn myths out there that refuse to go away.

Today, we’re busting these one by one.

Myth: All disabilities can be seen

Nope, they really can’t. Millions of Australians live with a disability – and 90% have what is called an invisible disability.

Invisible disabilities aren’t easy to spot and can include MS, autism, ADHD, brain injuries, mental illness, epilepsy, learning disabilities, chronic pain… the list goes on.

Some disabilities will become more obvious once you get to know someone, but many will be hidden unless they choose to tell you about it.

Myth: People with Down syndrome are always happy

Even though saying someone is always happy might seem nice, it’s just not true!

This myth suggests that people with Down syndrome don’t feel the full range of emotions. But of course they feel sadness, fear, anger, and even anxiety.

In fact people with Down syndrome are actually at a higher risk of depression and anxiety than others which is important to know as it often goes untreated.

Myth: Accessible toilets are just for wheelchair users

There are so many reasons someone who doesn’t use a wheelchair might need to use the accessible toilet.

Maybe they have a colostomy bag (where bowel motions are collected in a disposable bag) and need the extra space and running water.

Or maybe their disability makes balancing tricky and they need to use hand rails.

But remember, if you don’t need to use an accessible bathroom, leave them free for those who do.

Myth: People with autism don’t feel love

Believe it or not, one of the most Googled questions about autism is, ‘can someone with autism love?’.

Of course they can! People with autism can feel the full range of emotions including love and affection. Sometimes they can even be more pronounced than usual.

However, this myth might come from the fact that some people with autism can find it a bit hard to express these emotions and share what they are feeling.

Myth: Cerebral palsy only occurs at birth

It is true that cerebral palsy usually happens when a baby is in utero (in mum’s tummy) or being born, but it’s also very possible to develop the disability at any time.

For 10% of people with cerebral palsy, they developed their disability later in life due to other causes such as an infection (such as meningitis), stroke, or severe head injury.

Myth: All people with autism are like Rain Man

Hollywood loves a good story, but Rain Man isn’t really accurate!

The character of Rain Man was based off a real guy, Kim Peek, but he didn’t actually have autism!

That aside, the movie has spread the myth that all people with autism have secret gifts.

The truth is Savant syndrome, which causes exceptional talents, is real. But, it’s not that common. Only 10% of people with autism have some level of savant abilities, and these talents are very varied.

So, while there are hints of fact in the story, we can’t say this one is at all true.

Myth: All people who use a wheelchair cannot walk

Not all people need to use their wheelchair at all times, so there is no need to be shocked or accuse someone of ‘faking it’ when they stand up.

The fact is there are many reasons someone may only sometimes use a wheelchair.

It could be that someone has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for example, and some days they might choose to walk, but on their ‘bad’ days they might choose to use their chair.

Myth: Depression is just a case of ‘having the blues’

Everyone feels sad at times but depression is much more serious.

People often feel sad because of an upsetting experience or memory, but it comes and goes. Depression, on the other hand, is a chronic illness.

When you have depression, you don’t necessarily even feel sad – you may feel irritable, tense, empty, or simply numb.

Depression can also cause many other symptoms, such as sleep issues, poor concentration, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Myth: People with Down syndrome die young

This one used to be true…. Back in 1910, a child born with Down syndrome often passed away before his or her 10th birthday.

Fast forward 100 years, and the life expectancy of people with Down syndrome has gone up and up!

These days, many people live into their 60s, and some even into their 80s.

Myth: People with a disability are not reliable employees

Strangely, not coming into work is one of the main reasons employers worry about hiring someone with a disability.

But it has actually been shown that people with a disability are much less likely to take sick leave or time off (nearly 40%)! Not only that, employees with disabilities often stay with a company longer.

For employers, this means less people coming and going and financial savings too!