For some, the word autism is directly associated with sickness, negativity and disease. It is the exact opposite: autism should be celebrated, for it is not a condition to be ashamed of having.
By definition, autism is a disorder that causes difficulty with communication, social interactions and unorthodox behaviors. Simply put, autism is a condition that many people do not understand.
Previously, in the 20th century, autism was compared with diseases such as cancer and dementia. This caused mass hysteria, with many believing that autism was a deadly disease. In today’s society, people describe people with autism as “weird” and “abnormal,” adding fuel to the cultural attitude that people with autism should not be accepted into society.
The autism taboo has caused society to see people with autism as carriers of a “contagious disease,” creating a stereotype that people with autism are out of society’s norm.
To begin, there was misinformation about the effects of autism. Many parents of children who are diagnosed with autism are extremely afraid of what might happen to their children because autism is compared with diseases such as cancer. Parents worry about the well-being of their children who are autistic, thinking that autism is a “deadly disease”. Parents are also very sensitive to the word autism because they worry about the criticisms society will have about their children with autism.
Essentially, the criticisms that autistic children face in society are brutal. They are subjected to constant bullying and the feeling of being dismissed and excluded. Even when these children are adults they still face the same dismissal from society. The negativity and the lack of support and understanding from society cause the fear of parents with their children.
As a result of the criticisms that people with autism face, there is a huge consequence on the actions of people with autism. This sensitivity has caused isolation, avoidance of social situations and fear among people with autism. For instance, people with autism think that staying quiet and trying to be perfect by fitting in with the norm of society avoids criticism. They even criticize themselves, thinking that it hurts less when it comes from them rather than someone else. People with autism also try to camouflage their condition by trying to fix the behaviors that society thinks are unusual. When some people with autism are not diagnosed as a child, they try to refrain from a diagnosis. This is harmful because having professional help and support could improve their condition. Masking their “true self” could also lead to mental health issues due to the constant stress of holding back emotions.
Further, many people use autism as an insult to others. From my personal experience, I hear people call others autistic just because of a mistake they made, using phrases such as “are you autistic?” There is a stereotype in society that people with autism are “stupid,” which cements the narrative that individuals with autism are incapable or less than others.
Moreover, there are also many myths of people with autism that cause the idea that people with autism are abnormal. First, many people believe that people with autism do not want friends. This is not true because even though they struggle with social skills, individuals with autism still want relationships just like any other human. Secondly, many think that people with autism can not express emotion. This is wrong because people with autism have emotions like everyone; however, they find different ways to communicate them. For example, individuals with autism can communicate emotions through the movement of their bodies.
Lastly, people with autism are often seen as intellectually disabled. The reality is the stark opposite: people with autism have normal, and sometimes even higher, IQs than the average person, according to the National Library of Medicine. These myths that are not true add on to why society thinks that people with autism are unusual.
Ultimately, there are many ways to change the way society thinks of autism. Our society needs to understand that bullying others who are different is not okay and that people need to be accepting of everyone.
If there is bullying present to people with autism, it needs to be addressed immediately. Parents with children that have autism need to build a supportive environment that fosters success and find a balance of how to interact with their children by working hard to be kind and keeping criticisms to the minimum. These precautions will help change society’s stereotype that people with autism are unusual.
Autism is not a condition that will make a person abnormal, rather it will pose challenges to one’s life, requiring extra support.