Acceptance: Part Two
This is part two of a two-part blog series entitled Acceptance. This second part is on societal acceptance of Autistic people. If you are interested and haven’t read it already, part one is on how families can become allies and advocates for their Autistic family members.
Societal change is difficult. And it does not occur overnight. Unfortunately, certain societal beliefs, policies and norms are problematic. Throughout history, certain groups were treated differently than others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity/orientation or disability, among others. Movements arose to confront and address these inequalities. Some of these movements have been more successful than others and most movements continue to this day. I am going to explore some of the difficult conversations that we as a society need to have in order to address the misconceptions present about another minority group: people on the spectrum.
Like all societal misconceptions, some are harmless and others are harmful. Those that are fairly harmless may not lead to anger or even dismay from people on the spectrum but may lead to a lack of understanding about Autism. This could lead to inadequate inclusion or assistance. A good example of some of these types of misconceptions is when Autism is oversimplified or generalized. What do I mean by this? I am referring to unintentionally harmful statements such as “All Autistic people are…”. Why is this generalization harmful? One of the most misunderstood aspects of Autism is that it is a disorder that can be easily defined with a set list of signs and symptoms. This is simply not true. Each and every Autistic person is different. Some signs such as difficulty socializing or sensory issues are common, but how each Autistic person experiences this is highly unique to each individual.
The other category includes some more ostentatious mistruths that are still widely held societal beliefs. One of the most well-known of these is the misnomer that vaccines cause Autism. I am not going to get into the scientific efficacy of vaccines; it’s a controversial topic. But vaccines do not cause Autism. The longer that society perpetuates this type of lie, the longer it will define me and my community. While we do not know the causes of Autism we know that it is not caused by vaccines. This claim comes from one doctor (who has since lost his credentials and credibility) who released a highly flawed, non-peer-reviewed study in the early 2000s. Since then, a slew of other experts has proven with their own independent studies that this claim is unfounded and unsubstantiated. Despite this, this misinformation continues to have a real-world effect, and it isn’t good. Some parents of kids on the spectrum buy into this theory and look for quack cures to “cure” their child's Autism. This leads to real-world damage. Parents have given their children a variety of bogus cures ranging from relatively harmless essential oils to dangerous substances such as MMS (composed of bleach, yes bleach!).
Beyond the medical concerns that this inevitably brings forth, it makes the diagnosis of Autism something to be feared and hated. Yes, for some people Autism can be difficult to deal with. In some areas, they have greater support needs than me. The treatment and therapy for me will not necessarily work for everyone. Still, I do not believe Autism is a condition to be wished away. Instead, it is one to be considered on an individualized basis and carefully consider how to find ways to meaningfully improve the lives of those on the spectrum. Autism is not a curse. Nor is it something to be ignored. It presents its own set of challenges and benefits; it must be treated with dignity and consideration, not recklessness and disregard.
I just presented two radically different yet equally important types of misinformation and misconceptions. So how do we as a society change this? Simply put, we will only change with education and research. Those working in therapeutic and educational settings are making great strides. We continue to look into humane and fair ways to treat those on the spectrum. We are also discussing neurodiversity in the workplace, where professionals are reaching out for input from Autistic people on how to be more inclusive. However, there are things everyone can do to make things better. Educate yourself. This can be as easy as watching a ted talk (there are some good ones out there!), reading more of my blogs or talking with any Autistic person. Education does not need to just be society-wide but individualized as well. Since each Autistic person is unique, each individual person will need a different set of accommodations and support. So here is your takeaway: learn more about Autism and the Autistic people in your life.