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Embracing Autism

From complex problem solving to regulating the vital functions, our brain is like a marvelous super-computer that controls every aspect of our emotional and physical being. Thanks to our genetics, we are all unique from one another with our own individual thoughts, ideas, and mannerisms. There are some differences that we can physically see in each other, like our height and hair color, and there are other differences that we don’t see (such as how we react to different situations). However, despite all of our differences, we all tend to achieve the same developmental milestones of brain development at roughly the same periods of our lives. For example, infants usually learn how to crawl at seven months, walk independently at fourteen months, ask questions at sixteen months, and so on. Developmental milestones like the ones mentioned provide markers for brain development in an infant and generally fall into the following five categories: social, self-help, fine motor, gross motor, and language milestones. A significant delay in any one of these five categories is known in the medical world as a neurodevelopmental disorder. When an infant or child shows delays or difficulties in specifically the language and social milestones, he/she is diagnosed with the autism spectrum disorder.

When looking at the label ‘autism spectrum disorder’, the main word to notice is ‘spectrum.’ Each person with autism has their own distinct strengths and challenges making no two people with autism the same. For example, some individuals may need a significant amount of support whereas others can live entirely independently with very minimal intervention needed. Some activities that we might find extremely difficult like mathematics or music might be easier for a person with autism. Likewise, some activities that we might find to be easy and instinctual like socializing in a group setting might be a little harder for individuals on the spectrum. For example, here is the way an average classroom filled with people would sound to us. Here, is the way the same classroom might sound to a person with autism. Scary, right? What’s even scarier is the fact that people with autism may not be able to communicate/express their fear. Just like how we have different methods of coping in stressful situations, individuals on the spectrum have their own ways of coping that might seem a little different to us (like arm flapping). At the end of the day, autism enables certain individuals to view the world in a different way than we do. And that is ok.

In our society today, it is a common misconception that ‘autism’ is a very limiting disorder. Much worse, unfortunately, the word ‘autism’ is being used synonymously with the word ‘retarded’ and is considered as an insult. This stigma that is present in society is what makes stereotypes worsen which alienates the autistic community. From a study conducted at the University of Minnesota in 2018, researchers found that 1 in 42 children in Minnesota have ASD. This means you probably know someone in your life who has autism. So, the next time you hear the word ‘autistic’ being used as an insult, say something. If you see someone who looks uncomfortable in a social situation, give them a hand.

Autism is merely a different way of thinking, just as all of us are different. Rather than perpetuating misconceptions, take the time to educate yourself and others about living with autism. Showing compassion and understanding makes a huge impact on a person’s mental well-being, and by getting to know a person with autism, you can discover a different perspective along with their own interests and personality traits, and learn something new. Everyone deserves respect; we just need to have patience and acceptance. Neurodiversity is beautiful, too.

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