April is Autism Awareness Month. Some people are totally on board with a month devoted to awareness. Others, not so much, thinking it’s unnecessary. “Who isn’t aware that autism exists?” some may ask.
Well, “knowing it exists” is a very superficial definition of autism awareness. A month like this should go much deeper; this is especially the case because a lot of people know of autism, but few people know about it. And that has some serious consequences for the one in 68 who are affected.
Ignorance is not always bliss. It can also be the breeding ground for contempt and discrimination, which we can see in society. Here are some of the signs that we desperately need true autism awareness.
1. People still view meltdowns as a sign of “bad parenting.”
If a child has a meltdown in the middle of a grocery store, they’ll draw stares like metal to a magnet. Their parents might get disapproving glares that carry clear, unspoken messages: Why don’t you just give your child a good spanking? People see behavioral issues when it’s actually a loss of control, and as a result, they blame the parents for “not doing something about it.” And even if they do recognize it’s autism, they may say “Why don’t you just leave your child at home?” (The answer: kids with ASD have every right to be out in public, just as neurotypical kids do!)
2. Tensions are high between law enforcement and those on the spectrum
In early February of 2016, a transgender man with Asperger’s—whose video of a dog soothing his meltdown had gone viral—was shot dead by police in his home. They were responding to multiple suicide calls and checking to make sure he was alright. This man, Kayden Clarke, allegedly came at them with a knife, and they shot in self-defense, even though they possessed stun guns they could have used instead.
This tragic story isn’t terribly unusual. Due to a lack of mutual understanding, those with ASD and disabilities tend to have poor experiences with law enforcement—all too often facing abusive treatment or even death. Luckily, police departments are becoming more cognizant of this problem, and some are working to train their officers to interact with people on the spectrum.
3. People still think those on the spectrum are cold and unfeeling
From the fact that many on the spectrum do not openly display their feelings, to the debatable and widely misunderstood conception that they struggle with empathy, some believe that those on the spectrum are essentially emotionless, robotic shells.
This is not only incredibly hurtful to the autism community, but it’s also dangerous. The notion was what spurred “Families Against Autistic Shooters,” a Facebook hate page that emerged after the 2015 Oregon shooting in response to speculation that the gunman may or may not have been on the spectrum. This page spouted venomous rhetoric against those with autism, claiming that those with ASD had “soulless, dead eyes” and were “cold, calculating killing machines with no regard for human life.” While it was still up and running, the page garnered over 200 “likes.”
It’s an unsettling example of how ignorance leads to fear, and fear to hate.
4. People with autism are still bullied
Bullying happens to many kids for many reasons. However, an astounding proportion of people with autism are victims of bullying and violence, often because others don’t understand the disorder. They see those on the spectrum as different, and they view that as enough of an incentive to be physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive. Being “different” was why a teen with Asperger’s named Gavin was lured into meeting someone, only to be beat up by people he didn’t even know.
These four things are all connected by one similarity: they’re the result of a lack of knowledge and understanding about autism. People don’t need to know that autism exists. They need to know what it is. What it’s like. What kind of challenges those on the spectrum face, and what kind of incredible abilities they may possess.
They need to be aware.
Only then does this incredible population have a chance at receiving the respect and acceptance it deserves.Whizzco