Autism is not a “Four-Letter” Word

For many, the word “Autism” has a negative connotation.  People equate Autism with “disability”, and assume that all those with ASD are non-functioning and require constant supervision.  This is not the case – studies vary with numbers of 30-50% as “high-functioning”.

According to Thorkil Sonne, founder of a Denmark-based technology firm that helps those with high-functioning ASD develop job skills, there may be some advantages to Autism:

“Generally, they have good memory, they have attention to detail, they are good at pattern recognition, they are good at structured work.  They are really nice to work with because they are so open and honest and loyal to get the job done.”

A poll of those individuals we work with yielded these upsides to Autism:  self-directed learning, strong computer skills, learn new software easily, can work and learn alone, and a strong sense of right and wrong.

However, the down-sides to Autism seemed illuminating:  low self-esteem, overly sensitive to perceived “wrongs”, rigid thinking, resistance to change, and inability to cope with stress.

Often, neurotypical individuals, school administrators, teachers, and sometimes even parents treat those with ASD as second-class, or inferior.  It is no wonder then, that Autistic people tend to have a low opinion of themselves when they are surrounded by people that constantly underestimate them.

Some people with Autism stand out amongst their peers as quite brilliant, in fact.  Recently a 14 yr old Autistic boy was nominated for a Nobel Prize, and there are suggestions he may be “smarter than Einstein“.   The artist Stephen Wiltshire can draw startlingly accurate drawings from visual memory with only a brief look.  Although Ellen Boudreaux  is blind, she is a musical savant, who can play any piece of music by ear after only hearing it once.  These may be examples of extreme genius, and each example of savantism seems to come with its own set of disadvantages.

The challenge is to understand those with Autism, and learn to adapt to their presence in your lives.  ASD affects individuals in many ways, and it can be highly damaging to their self-esteem to constantly remind them how they are “disadvantaged” as opposed to “different”.  The root cause of Autism is not widely understood, but there is research to suggest that there is a genetic link.  If individuals are born with ASD, they will have it for their entire lives.  The emphasis should be on learning, adapting, and developing coping mechanisms – not “curing” Autism itself.

Autistic people are human, with a ranging set of emotions and stress-factors just like everyone else.  Labeling us, separating us, discriminating against us – these things all take their toll.  In looking for more positive ways to view Autism, I found this exerpt from a blog by Lisa Ardrey:

A is for acceptance.

U is for unique.

T is for tolerance.

I is for I will never be the same.

S is for support.

M is for Magic.

The one I liked reading about the most was “M is for Magic” – there can be endless possibility for someone with Autism once you’ve figured out how to relate to them.  Once someone with Autism has discovered their passion in life, they can be unstoppable.  Individuals on the spectrum can exhibit such talent, such genius, and such innovative ways of thinking!  With a little more understanding, and yes, even curiosity, you might be surprised what Autistic people have to offer!

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