Changing the Way We View Autism

April is known as Autism Awareness month.  People used to have varying diagnoses when it came to Autism.  The field of psychology is ever growing and changing.  By today’s definition, Asperger’s is no longer a valid diagnosis.  Now, someone newly diagnosed would not be given this diagnosis, but be told where they are on the spectrum of Autism.  These kinds of changes can be challenging for the general public to understand, especially those that formerly had an Asperger’s diagnosis.  The rates of Autism allegedly skyrocketed when this change was made in the field.  We feel it is important to inform the public, that we simply changed the categories for diagnosis, creating an artificial surge in the cases of Autism.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, can be incredibly challenging at times and no two people are the same.  We are trained to use what is called ‘person-first’ language in our field.  What this means is simply shifting from saying that an individual is ‘Autistic’ to saying they ‘have Autism’.  Why is this important so important?  Why did this shift occur?  We recognized that saying someone was Autistic made them nothing more than their diagnosis, removing their personhood.  By simply changing that statement to ‘they have Autism’ grants them the freedom to be a person, first and foremost, and makes their diagnosis secondary.

This subject is one that is near and dear to my heart, as I have watched my sister raise my niece, with Autism, for the last 22 years.  There is something so special about who she is as a person, I couldn’t imagine thinking of her as anything else.  Yes, she has behaviors that are incredibly repetitive and can be a lot to handle at times.  She also has a job, buys her own food, keeps a very regimented schedule (which she makes sure others stick to as well), and thinks that baby sheep are ‘so cute’.  She can get frustrated, but most of the time, nothing bothers her.  She is one of the happiest people I have ever had the pleasure of having in my life.  My sister had to work really hard to help her become what us neurotypical folks would consider ‘functional’, and I have hope that my niece will be able to live independently one day.  She doesn’t worry about the silly things the rest of us do, she just lives her happy life.  Her passion is all things Disney.  The really amazing part about that, is she can name every movie Disney has created since 1982.  She knows most of the people that are the voice actors in each of the movies by heart.  Her knowledge is even expanding to other movie producers now, but Disney will always be her favorite.  Most of the time, by the end of the day, I couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast that morning or the name of the movie I watched last week.  My purpose in sharing our story, is to show that individuals with ASD are special, and should be accepted as such, even though they come with a unique set of challenges.  It has been purposed that April be changed to April Acceptance Month.  For more information, check out this article: Autism Acceptance Month

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