FAKE NEWS. The claim: Autistic children are just naughty According to Journalism.com, 45% of adults in the UK believe they see or read some form of ‘fake news’ every single day.Throw in Covid 19 – and a vaccination – and the already problematic world of autism on the internet becomes a pandemic of misinformation.For World Autism Acceptance Week we’ve decided to fact check the most popular autism assertions. The claim: Autistic children are just naughty Where does it come from? Picture the scene. You’re walking through the Metrocentre at lunch time. There are queues coming out of shops, you can smell cinnamon from the pretzel place mixed with the aroma of coffee. The walkways are rammed with people in every direction while music plays on the tannoy. In the midst of it all, while other families walk on by, there’s a distressed child screaming and rocking back and forth with a parent who looks like they’re trying to coax him to do what they are asking. It’s a similar scene to the one you’ve just watched in McDonalds when the toddler refused to follow his mum’s instructions. Our internal playbook kicks in. We lump everything together, measure it against Society’s impossibly meaningless standards, and decide that children who are defiant, who cry and scream, who appear to be ignoring their parents are obviously naughty; well behaved children don’t do that. So it’s true then? To be frank: yes AND no. Let’s deal with the yes first. Are autistic children naughty? Well… yes. Why? Because they’re kids and all children at some point or another have tantrums, lash out, or will push back on boundaries set for them. But is it always ‘naughtiness’ when scenes like the one described occur? The likelihood is no. The scene I described is often the reality for many parents of neurodiverse children. BUT a snap judgement doesn’t take into account what the child in question may be struggling with. While all of us who are autistic process the world around us in a way unique to ourselves, there are some commonalities. Sensory overload is one. Often referred to as a ‘meltdown’, if a child who experiences sensory stimuli in a powerful way is taken to an unusual or unfamiliar environment this can be an assault on their senses. A shopping mall, for example. Noise, light, crowds, smells, temperature… throw in any communication challenges and what do we get? Something, that with a cursory glance, could come across as a naughty child mid-tantrum. It’s also wrapped up in ideas around autistic children being non-compliant and rarely seen as disabled children who need to do things and exist in a way appropriate for them. Neurodiversity describes all humans as having individual brains; Under the banner of neurodivergence – there are multiple normal variations of human brain wiring – including ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and things like Tourette Syndrome. These all present challenges in the hustle and bustle of society… what’s not helpful, however, is making snap judgements or being unkind. Naughtiness implies that a choice was made. That’s not helpful. For many of us, reacting to a sensory overload is like a reflex not a calculated plan to lash out. Verdict: Can autistic children be naughty? Yes they can. But believing that’s always the case is nothing but FAKE NEWS.