There is an information overload regarding the Autism Spectrum Condition.
From professionals with credentials deeming Autism an epidemic to opportunists with minimal to none experience offering quick fixes, current treatment, and support strategies for Autistic individuals have, sadly, become an unregulated business. Add stigma and misrepresentation from the media, and you have an entire society bombarded by ignorance. Who to trust? Which treatment works best? Is this therapy harmful? Do diets work? It's easy to see why parents are terrified of hearing their child is Autistic.
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition characterized by alterations in the person's way of processing information.
This includes sensory processing, social and communication interactions, motor skills, language processing, executive functioning, among others. Autism affects the way we experience the world around us and how we interact with it.
Reframing Autism is an on-going process that starts with shifting the way we see Autism. Autistic people, both children, and adults are currently being pathologized. Professionals talk about our differences as problems and traits that need fixing. Society talks about Autistic behavior as odd, bizarre, and abnormal. To change the current narrative, we need to destigmatize and depathologize Autism. We need to start seeing it as it is; a different neurotype.
Autistic behavior is a form of communication in itself. Much of what is deemed as a problematic response to our environments is because caregivers and professionals don't bother asking a simple, yet important, question: Why?
Why is the child suddenly hitting himself in the head and refusing to be restrained? Why is the teenager suddenly crying out loud and pulling out their hair? Instead of attempting to understand the cause of our behavior, they focus on simply trying to erase it. This results in professionals coming up with a plan of action to manage these behaviors by attempting to get rid of them. Forcing eye-contact and physical affection, banning rocking, stopping flapping, reducing echoing speech. By using a punishment/reward system as if these children were animals, the goal is to remove Autistic behavior from the equation.
And what indicates a successful intervention? The more neurotypical or “normal” behavior the child displays, the better.
Why is a spectrum condition?
Many claims made by professionals come from the mistaken belief that Autism is a linear spectrum that consists of two ends: "less autistic" and "very autistic." Autism is a neurotype characterized by a set of traits that all find themselves within their own spectrum of intensity. Every characteristic associated with Autism will present itself differently in every Autistic; therefore, we refer to is as the Autism Spectrum.
What is Autism?
Illustration by Rebecca Burgess
From the comic strip: "Understanding The Spectrum."
To see full illustration click here.
Despite not appearing that way, some traits create difficulties in our daily lives, depending on the circumstances. Some Autistic people don't seem to have trouble with social skills. However, sensory-overwhelming environments will make it harder for them to keep up with conversations, so their social skills are affected anyway.
Some Autistics might not be able to communicate using spoken language at all but are comfortable with being in loud crowds and have no trouble understanding what you're saying. Other Autistics might struggle with executive function but not with motor skills. Some Autistics might struggle with every area of their brain and need more support than others. We're not all savant, gifted, and geniuses. We're not all bad at social and motor skills. We're not all bad at language. We're not all bad at executive function. We don't all have sensory issues.