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Autism: Symposium to Discuss Myths and Misconceptions

Many theories about autism are doing the rounds amongst the media and the general public. Autism experts feel that it is the right time to dissect these theories, and ascertain their validity. // This will help dispel some of the inaccurate assumptions surrounding autism.

A psychologist, an Epidemiologist, a Psychiatrist and a physician will analyze the latest research on autism, and critically study the prevailing stereotypes that have gained popularity. These stereotypes will be addressed during the “Science Of autism” symposium, at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Morton Gernsbacher, a Vilas Research Professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the symposium's chair and organizer has said that, with the focus of attention on autism from scientists and society, there is a responsibility to distinguish between uninformed stereotypes and scientific reality, which will help dispel myths and misconceptions.

Gernsbacher will be taking up the common theory among autism researchers that autistic individual’s fall short of the "theory of mind." When the psychologist began probing into this area, she found that scientists connect perceptions of the mind with tasks that require a high level of linguistic capability. According to her, since autistic children are deficient in communication skills, mind games or the theory of the mind is puzzling with autistic people. "I think we as a society fall prey to a slippery slope when we begin talking about members of our society as not appreciating that they or others have a mind," says Gernsbacher. "An uncritical acceptance of the hypothesis that autistic individuals lack a theory of mind can seriously compromise how autistic individuals are treated in the workplace, the community and society in general."

The other panelists will similarly address other stereotypes about autism. Judith Grether, an environmental epi
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