When you search up the word ‘autism’ on the internet, different medical articles like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (also known as the CDC) immediately pop up. Within just five minutes of scrolling, the screen is filled with words like ‘disorder,’ ‘impairment,’ and ‘disability’. To a viewer who has no knowledge of the ‘disorder’ itself, autism would immediately seem like some sort of disease. The moment a word gets the status of a disease or disability, people tend to distance themselves away from any mention of that word. When anyone mentions a person with that said ‘disorder,’ people tend to consider it to be extremely limiting and begin to feel pity for the affected individual whose future seems to be all of a sudden bleak.
Imagine a mother who has just been to the doctor’s office to receive the news that her two-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism. After going through the initial shock with the idea that her baby has just been diagnosed with some foreign ‘disorder,’ this mother comes home and frantically searches the web for more information. The words that fill the screen only seem to make the fear worse. Looking at her child, she continues to feel worse and worse about the future. Likewise, imagine a young woman who has just been diagnosed with autism. Like the mother, she goes home to learn more about this ‘disorder’ that the doctors have just labeled her with. The words that pop up on her screen only add to her confusion with the idea that she is somehow ‘disabled’.
In both of these scenarios, the individual in focus has just become scared. It can even be said that the label society has placed on the word ‘autism’ has successfully brainwashed the affected party. This stigma must be eliminated. Yes, some individuals with autism spectrum disorder may need some early intervention/therapy for some functions in daily life. Yes, some individuals may always need support to live their life. And yes, autistic individuals may communicate and react to different social situations in ways that is a little bit different from the way we are used to. But, this does not warrant the social distancing that society has either consciously or unconsciously been doing to the autistic community.
Sadly today, the word ‘autistic’ is being used as an insult. In fact, it was only after hearing this ‘insult’ being used several times at my high school did I decide to start this club to spread awareness. The worst part? People do not seem to realize how the insult affects the autistic community. It is these insults that make that mother think that her child has no future and the young woman disappointed. These insults are what pushes people to believe that autism is a limiting disorder. Being a bystander in these situations only makes matters worse. Silence only makes it seem like society agrees with the bully. This is not OK. I urge you, next time you hear the word ‘autistic’ being used in an offensive way, say something. Let people know that it is not OK. Educate the bully. That is perhaps the greatest gift that a person could give to both the oppressor and the victim.
When you start to speak up and educate yourself about autism, you start to realize how the words 'autism spectrum disorder' is more like a label than a disorder. It is a label for a different way of thinking. Autism is a different, beautiful way of looking at our complex world. However, when someone is different, it is in our nature to find a way to 'fix' the foreign. Maybe, we need to learn to accept our differences, whether you can physically see them or not. 'Neurodiversity' is beautiful too.