Opinion: Autism acceptance can transform communities

By Amelia Coleman, Golden Eye Staff Writer

You may have met someone with autism and not known it.

Dr. Temple Grandin, who has autism, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science. She has written more than 60 essays on animal welfare. She teaches at Colorado State University and was named one of the top 10 professors in the United States. She advocates for the humane treatment of livestock. The word “disorder” seems to have an association with being disabled, but some people with autism have extremely advanced abilities in fields such as art, mechanics, music and math. For example, at age 13, Jake Barnett of Indianapolis was a sophomore in college and could recite the digits of pi forward and backward. 

Often, educators are unaware that autism is not always visible. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (though it is important to note that autism is not a disease), “There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.” 

If an educator does not understand that autism is something you cannot see from a distance, they may deny, even if only secretly, that a student with autism needs extra help. 

Educators are not the only ones who sometimes misunderstand autism. Students also need to learn that not all people with autism display the same symptoms. 

The reason autism is called a spectrum disorder is that the “spectrum” can range from someone being high-functioning to the point that it is nearly impossible to detect it from their behavior, to as low-functioning as not being able to speak. 

Perhaps most of all, it is important for students to be empathetic toward their peers with autism, whether or not the students without autism know their peer has autism. 

If a student is crying and covering his or her ears when a microphone makes a loud squeal, other students should respect this response rather than laugh or wrinkle their noses at it. If someone with autism becomes upset over something that may seem trivial, students should realize that while this emotional reaction might be unique, exclusion does not give students with autism the opportunity to make friends, feel accepted and flourish. 

It is easy for some to label their peers with autism as “resource kids,” but many, like Grandin, have a high ability to excel in advanced areas. Many display few to no behavioral problems in school and at home, and from their behavior, they appear just as “normal” as the next person. 

The sooner society breaks the misconceptions and stigma of autism, the sooner students with autism can receive full assistance where teachers understand what the disorder is. 

So, how can schools better accommodate students with autism? Teachers can attend workshops relating to teaching students with special needs, they can read informative articles, and they can adjust their classrooms to help these individuals. Some people with autism do not understand sarcasm or figurative language, so a teacher can make an effort to avoid using this language when that student is present. Sometimes smells, sights, textures or sounds will bother those with autism. In this case, teachers can remove sensory triggers, such as turning off music that is bothersome to the student. Students can show compassion toward their peers by offering to sit with or spend time with them, but not pressuring them if they prefer to spend time alone. 

The importance of helping people with autism lies not only in the fact that people with autism enrich society, but that they are people too. When towns, schools and people begin to fully grasp this, the stereotypes surrounding autism will begin to dissolve, and there will be a greater sense of community between those with autism and those without it.