FORT WORTH, Texas: Autism Speaks mandates that April is Autism Awareness Month. This organization makes an image for themselves indicating they’re for the welfare and lives of autistic individuals, like me. However, that is, at best disingenuous, at worst a lie. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but Autism Speaks demonizes and only identifies a single demographic of autistic individuals.
What they fail to recognize is that the Autism Spectrum is not the way Autism Speaks portrays it.
That failure is evidenced in their 2009 commercial, “I Am Autism”
The commercial plays out more like an anti-Communist propaganda film from the Red Scare of the 1950s. During the commercial, you can see mainly one demographic: middle class Caucasian children.
Autism Speaks claims that Autism Spectrum Disorder can: “make sure that your marriage fails” and “bankrupt you for my own self-gain.”
As a child growing up on the spectrum, if I was told that my being Autistic is responsible for my parents’ marriage dissolving (it did not) would be horrific. As a young adult, all I can say is that if your marriage fails because your child is on the Autism spectrum, your marriage was not solid anyway.
Also, it seems highly illogical that an Autistic child can bankrupt a household. If you’re bankrupt due to your child on the Autism spectrum, your household fund management is not solid.
Autism Speaks also claims children on the spectrum are a threat to civilization at its core
“I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams,” the commercial continues. As if a chemical imbalance in the brain of children is capable of destroying planetary safety, which is highly illogical in this case.
To bring it full circle in the Red Scare-esque advertisement, they claim “We are Qatar. We are the United Kingdom. We are the United States. We are China. We are Argentina. We are Russia. We are the European Union. We are the United Nations,” as if individuals like myself are international threats to civilization.
A more realistic definition of Autism
On the contrary to what Autism Speaks believes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder is defined as
“…a group of behaviors indicating social, communicative, and behavioral impairment or abnormalities. The essential features of ASD are (a) impaired reciprocal social interactions, (b) delayed or unusual communication styles, and (c) restricted or repetitive behavior patterns.”
As an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning level of autism, I exhibit not only those qualities listed above, but qualities such as having a special interest and having sensory issues. Please be assured, I am not speaking for every individual on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Some individuals are lower functioning than I am and some individuals are intermediate. While others have special gifts, music, math, memory recall, that others may not.
Autism experts put children with autism and Asperger’s into quality boxes.
Quality A is: “impaired reciprocal social interactions”
Some people on the Spectrum may not respond to normal conversational stimuli or may respond in ways different than average people.
Quality B is: “delayed or unusual communication styles”
For myself that means getting additional classroom help via a teacher’s aide, or a smaller classroom size. This helps me to focus better, and I have extra assistance on assignments. However, it also means that some individuals with ASD may communicate by primitive or unorthodox methods.
Quality C is “restricted or repetitive behavior patterns”
My fellow individuals on the spectrum and I exhibit actions that are often replicated frequently ala fidgeting with a random object, whether it be a pencil or our hair.
Like a superhero with their uncommon abilities to see or hear, a common trait shared among individuals with ASD is having sensory issues. The sections of our brain that are responsible for our sight, hearing, speech, smell, and touch are sensitive to an extent.
For instance, my friend, Olivia, and I don’t like ground beef because it looks unnatural and disgusting to us, kind of like how some people don’t like tapioca pudding. It just does not “look” right to us.
Others don’t like sudden or loud noises like fire alarms, because our eardrums are extra sensitive to sound stimulation. With individuals like myself, we may have speech issues, whether it be not being able to pronounce a sound or being non-verbal, like Willa, the daughter of a family friend.
Additionally, many autistic individuals hate shirt tags as they irritate the skin. The perception is from annoying to caustic depending on the person. Thankfully we can find clothing that helps us to overcome issues with things like seams in socks, or the tactile feeling of the cloth, or the tags.
Star Trek characters help explain the Autism Spectrum
Similarly, a majority of individuals with ASD have emotions as average human beings do. We just don’t necessarily experience them the same way though. And like anyone else, our DNA expresses certain genes rather than all of them. One autistic individual may not experience emotions at all, ala Data from Star Trek the Next Generation. Another autistic individual may experience some emotions but expresses them seldom, ala Spock from Star Trek. It is not a matter of not being affected by a situation or emotional stimuli, it is that some individuals just don’t react externally, and/or internally.
On the other hand, some of us experience emotions but they’re extreme depending on the stimuli. In that case, with the help of our parents, and therapists we can to learn to reign it in.
Our emotional response is like any other persons, it depends
Just like our average counterparts, we don’t experience the same emotion all day and every day, we experience certain emotions in different situations. I may react differently to a new piece of information than my peers. A prime example of this is commonly found when an autistic individual goes through sudden change or obtains news about a special interest they have.
I may react differently to a new piece of information than my peers would. A prime example of this happens when an autistic individual goes through sudden change or obtains news about a special interest. In my sophomore year of high school the counselors changed my schedule without telling me beforehand. It caught me off guard which caused great distress for me. Those in the know usually give me plenty of warning but for some reason communication broke down.
Joy in an autistic individual.
However, other news may cause extreme joy in an autistic individual. In 2016 when I learned that Disney was making a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (1991.) I was ecstatic for the live-action movie to debut due to that being one of my special interests. Because the trailer of Captain America: Civil War debuted on the Internet, one of my colleagues on the Spectrum experienced elation for over five months.
For both of us, the news of a favorite “story” continuing was really exciting. Our responses can be much more enthusiastic and/or animated than those not on the Autism Spectrum.
The reason he was ardent is the same reason why I was elated for Beauty and the Beast (2017), both films are special interests we have.
Another shared trait among the autism community is a topic or idea that the individual finds fascinating or identifies with. My friend Aaron has a passion for Transformers. He can info-dump literally everything about Transformers to you if you ask. Another friend Justin is enthralled with Halo and Resident Evil because he enjoys playing them, a lot.
Besides Beauty and the Beast my special interests include Star Trek, The Beatles, and Audrey Hepburn. During my freshman year of high school, I did a project on The Beatles for my English class. I don’t remember what the assignment was, but I info-dumped literally everything I know about The Beatles into this project in minute detail. It encompassed their individual biographies and general fun facts about the Fab Four. Additionally, Olivia has a passion for the Super Mario Brothers video game. She’d be delighted to discuss everything about the game if you ask her.
Some special interests can sprout from an individual identifying with a specific fictional character. I relate to Spock due to my logical thought process and taking situations or ideas very literally. Case in point, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) when Captain Kirk is plotting with Spock to steal whales from an aquarium:
Kirk: If we play our cards right, we may be able to find out when those whales are being released.
Spock: How will playing cards help?
On the other hand, I relate to Belle due to being an outcast in society. The people in her village consider her strange because she reads books, and keeps to herself. In the opening song “Belle”, you can observe Belle celebrating the book she’s reading by stating what she loves about the book.
She resounds, “far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, and a prince in disguise.”
But she also talks about her favorite part of the book: “here’s where she meets Prince Charming, but she won’t discover that it’s him ‘til chapter three!”
I relate to that because I can talk about any of my special interests very passionately like Belle and her favorite book.
You need to think of my friends, and others, as having a type of Ph.D. in the subject they care about. We know everything we can, retaining every tidbit of information we learn.
How laser focus effects those on the ASD
A vast majority of individuals with ASD usually fidget with hand held items for reasons such as neurological stimulation. Items can include: fidget spinner, hair, or a writing utensil. However, some people stimulate in rather adverse ways. I’m guilty of it. I pick at my fingernails when I’m either anxious or really bored. I honestly don’t know why other than it’s kind of satisfying for some unknown reason.
All in all, individuals like myself aren’t all that different than the average person: we all have the same hardware, but running on different software.