Public needs to realize autism has two faces

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The diagnosis of autism has evolved from a rare, unknown subset of schizophrenia into a spectrum of learning disorders, which include social and behavioral impairments. These disorders have captured the attention of nearly every demographic in the United States; however, this does not mean that the implications of autism diagnoses are well understood.

While programs such as 60 Minutes and 20/20 have done excellent jobs at raising awareness of the lives of children with severe autism, the almost exclusive media coverage on those individuals has resulted in the obfuscation of children with high-functioning autism and adults with autism.

It is impossible to ignore the presence of the group Autism Speaks. While the group advocates autism awareness, its strategy of doing so is damaging to individuals with autism and their relatives. Instead of educating the public on autism, Autism Speaks depicts autism as a disease that destroys families and must be cured. Its cold-hearted view on autism was depicted best in the video “Autism Every Day,” which features a mother talking about how she had once considered killing both herself and her autistic daughter due to the challenges of raising a child with autism, all the while in front of said daughter.

It is no wonder, then, that there is still a portion of the population that believes individuals with autism are incapable of interacting with other people. It is impossible to deny that both living with autism and raising a child with autism are emotionally and financially taxing. However, to deny the nature of autism would be an immense disservice to the autistic community.

While there are some people with autism who will never be able to speak or use a bathroom, there are also some who attend school and are merely seen as “quirky.” There are probably many students in the Carnegie Mellon community who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Due to the behavioral impairments that autism causes, individuals with high-functioning autism are often misunderstood and generally unaccepted by their peers. The general absence of their portrayal in the media does not assist the difficulties they have interacting with a community of peers.

This plurality should be more emphasized in our society. If children are exposed to information about autism from a young age, whether it is in school, books, television, or simply through talking with their parents, individuals with high-functioning autism will have an easier time integrating into society and perhaps have an easier time finding success in industry. A greater media presence will also assure children with autism that they are not alone in their daily struggles, and perhaps even provide them with role models to look up to.

March is Autism Awareness Month. Use this opportunity to educate yourself and your peers about the reality of autism — then perhaps some day a designated month for autism awareness will not be needed.