Having Autism in America
What's it like having autism in America? Well, it may be difficult for someone with no experience on the topic to understand. Most people have heard of autism, but it is lesser known that autism exists on a spectrum. Most people have a stereotypical view of autistic people, but what they don't know is that the person sitting next to them in math class could be affected by it. The disorder is generally classified in three ways: autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Luckily, awareness for the disorder is becoming significantly more common, and 1 in 68 children are diagnosed.
Social lens #1: Educational
Mozart, Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, Isaac Newton. These people are considered geniuses in their fields by many, but what else do they have in common? They all have, or are thought to have had some form of autism. In some cases, autism is the mark of a genius. This is not always helpful in the American education system, though, because they are extremely gifted in one area, but fall behind in others. In the past, people with developmental disorders had been put in institutional settings. However, in more recent years, society has become more understanding and accepting of the gifts within these people's minds. In the 70's laws were written to protect children with autism and ensure they were included and had programs in public schools. Colleges have become more likely to admit a student with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Some are even opening programs designed around their needs. They offer mentoring professors, coursework to improve organization skills, and support groups.
Social lens #2: Psychology
From a psychological standpoint, the exact nature of autism is a mystery. Many years ago, it was common for an autistic child to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1943, a scientist named Leo Kanner identified the condition, calling it "early infantile autism". "He emphasized three features that distinguished autistic children from schizophrenic children: social isolation, insistence on sameness, and abnormal language." (Autism 11.) There are no physical traits to distinguish an autistic child from a neurotypical one. It is a brain disorder that affects communication, relationships, and reactions. Some of them are extremely high functioning and have been able to cope with their disability and appear "normal" in the eyes of society. For others, it has not been so easy. They may be mute, locked into rigid patterns of thinking, or seem shut down. Often times, autism can be linked with other mental problems, such as depression, anxiety, or addiction. Many different things can cause these problems. It is crucial to get a diagnosis for children with autism as soon as possible so they can get help and avoid these other mental problems. Most autistic children are diagnosed within the first few years of life, however, a higher functioning child with autism, especially girls, may not be diagnosed until later in life. One of the first clues are sensory or motor problems. The child may be painfully sensitive to certain stimuli, such as sounds or textures. Another common sign is obsessions and repetitive behaviors. For example, they may rock back and forth, flap their hands, or twirl their hair. There is no definitive "cure" for autism. However, cognitive therapy can be incredibly beneficial to an autistic person. Some autistic people may take medication for certain symptoms or side effects, but there is nothing to get rid of it entirely.
Being autistic is neither a good nor bad thing. Autistic people can lead a normal life and be as successful, if not more successful than any neurotypical person. Society has constructed toxic stereotypes around autism, and it is our job to get rid of them. I encourage you to educate yourself further on the subject!