April is National Autism Awareness Month and on April 2nd was World Autism Day. Yet, why is that a blog from Psychology Today titled”I’m Not Participating in Autism Awareness Month” gets it right?
The title would have benefited if the title had added and”neither should you.”
If there is a story about an individual with Autism it’s almost always portrayed in a negative context in the mainstream media. For example, a priest banning a 13-year old from church, a teenager who stole a car and then flew across the United States or a two-year old getting kicked off a flight.
What’s often ignored is that it’s a spectrum disorder. So, when the media does a story on a person with Autism it’s the stereotype of someone who is low-functioning.
According to Bright Tots these characteristics include:
- Sensitivity to sound, smell, touch, pain and visual stimulants
- Poorly coordinated when walking
- Do not seek physical comfort
- Avoidance or use of eye contact in odd ways
- Aggressive behavior
- Self-injurious behavior
Still even when a person is high-functioning for example Paul McNally who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Writers will make claims such as this one in regards to the diagnosis,”a two-word nightmare.” Also, he went on to say “in all likelihood, their child will not play sports, never wear a uniform bearing their school’s colors or name, never have the opportunity to make a mom cry on Parent’s Day.”
- Showing an intense interest in one or two specific narrow subjects
- Having a hard time “reading” other people or understanding humor
- Moving clumsily, with poor coordination
- Appearing to not understand, empathize with or be sensitive to others’ feelings
- Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
Jason McElwain a senior in high school in 2006 proved that theory wrong when he scored 20 points in a three-minute span. He was the varsity team’s manager throughout the season and got the chance to play thanks to his coach.
In 2012, in one of the leading social stories on autism, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in 88 children now are identified on the Autism spectrum.
Dr. Isabel Rapin professor of Pediatric and Neurology at Albert Einstein College said “I think it has to do with changing diagnostic criteria, including mine over the years which have made me label many more children as being on the autism spectrum than say 10-20 years ago. Not only physicians, but parents, teachers, therapists and the public are much more aware of the symptoms of autism, and I suspect some may apply the diagnosis based on one symptom, which is inadequate.”
That is also echoed by Dr. Lisa Schulman who stated “over the years, children with autistic disorder remain a relatively small group in our center. It is the group of children with milder social-communicative impairment and without a large array of mannerisms and atypical interests consistent with an ASD diagnosis that has increased significantly.”
Interestingly enough there’s another disorder that shares similarities of Asperger’s, yet doesn’t get any attention as there’s no awareness month, week or even day, nor is it on the Autism spectrum. It’s known as NLD for short, which stands for Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.
The University of Michigan has the list of traits which are:
- Physically awkward; poor coordination
- Concrete thinking; taking things very literally
- Trouble with nonverbal communication, like body language, facial expression and tone of voice
- Difficulty with math, especially word problems
- Attention to detail, but misses the big picture
- Trouble adjusting to changes
How come those who suffer from NLD don’t get recognized for their achievements and those who have Asperger’s do?
Another reason to why it’s best to not participate is because of the parents who are placing blame or looking for a cure. At one point there was a study done by Andrew Wakefield that linked the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine to Autism. Turned out it was an elaborate fraud. Still there are some who believe that is the case and refuse to vaccinate.
Those looking for a cure is the best reason not to get involved as Autism is not a disease. Children who develop “normally” at times struggle in certain subjects in school and will require tutoring. A child with Asperger’s instead will need help developing fine motor skills and social skills.
In order to get involved during Autism Awareness Month it’s time for a different portrayal of those with Autism, though it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon.