April is Autism Awareness Month. Do we have a ton of events to mark on your calendar or fundraising we are going to solicit your help with? Nope. Here’s what we want to do… educate you!
Let me start off with a couple of staggering facts:
About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
More than 3.5 million Americans live with ASD
There are so many forms of Autism that professionals have deemed it a “spectrum disorder.” That means, you can have one individual with autism who is highly-functioning, holds a job and you may not even know they have a diagnosis. Then, you could have another individual with autism who is afraid to leave the house, is non-verbal and depends heavily on others for help. Every individual with autism between the extremes is still a member of our community, and they matter. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on what Autism really is, and, even more so, what it’s not.
Now, I could take up the entire section of this newspaper debunking myths about ASD. Am I a professional? No. Do I claim to know everything about ASD? Not even close. Do I have family members with ASD? Yes. Does that make me an authority on the subject? Not even a little. So, take what I am saying and check it out for yourself. I encourage you to do research. Learn more about the differences we all have until you see the similarities instead.
Here we go (in no particular order):
Myth No. 1 – There is an autism epidemic
Reality – Yes, the number of people diagnosed has increased. However, the autism diagnosis has only been around for a short time, relatively (1943 was the first one). That means, back in 1940 there were exactly zero people labeled as autistic. They were generally given a schizophrenic diagnosis instead. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. And, there’s about the same rate of autism in adults as there is in children. They didn’t get sudden onset autism… it just wasn’t identified as such, and now it is. Whew. Ok. Soap box.
Myth No. 2 – All autistic people are savants.
Reality – You might watch too much Big Bang Theory on television. Sure, some people with autism (1 out of 10 to be more accurate) are above-average intelligent. In the same breath, though, not all people with autism are intellectually disabled. It’s not an either/or. You don’t have to be a “genius” or “disabled” – there is a middle area. I heard it said once that autistic spectrum intelligence is atypical, but it’s also genuine and underestimated.
Myth No. 3 – Bad parenting causes autism.
Reality – Let me take a deep breath first. People on the spectrum aren’t the only ones that suffer from myths and misinformation; parents of autistic children are also harmed. That’s right. Every time you think, “There’s nothing wrong with that child that a good spanking wouldn’t fix” keep it to yourself. It’s not lack of maternal warmth or discipline. It’s not that they give the child too much sugar. It’s not that they don’t want the child to behave so you stop staring or whispering. They do.
I could go on, but instead I want to introduce you to my nephew, Coltyn. He will be 8 in August. He rides the bus to school, interacts with his teachers and friends, has loving parents and younger brother and loves to play on his iPad and toss the ball around. Does he sound like every other 8-year-old boy you know? He is. Except he doesn’t communicate like you and I, and was diagnosed with autism when he was 3. He makes noise to communicate, grabs your hand to take you where he wants you if you’re not understanding and gives the most amazing around-the-neck hugs and kisses on the cheek you’ve ever had. Oh, and he winks when you take his picture! He knows and understands everything that’s going on.
His diagnosis is not a result of an epidemic. He didn’t “catch” autism. He’s not a genius (well, he is to this aunt) or “disabled.” He is grossly underestimated (again, I’m biased). His lack of verbal skills is not a result of bad parenting, or them giving him everything so he doesn’t have to “use his words” or because he isn’t loved. Those labels couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, I want to challenge you this month: Who do you know with Autism? What can you learn from them this month? How can you seek to better understand their situation? If you don’t know anyone, let me know! I’d love to introduce you to some of our persons served. Their diagnosis does not define them. It makes them an intricate, genuine, unique part of this community. Let’s celebrate them this month by educating ourselves more.
Until next time… keep a good view on life!