To many, the topic of autism is a controversial one. It is said to both be undesirable, or a gift. Yet if you were to ask anyone with autism, or anyone they associate themselves with, they may disagree to both sentiments. Autism is a reality to many. So few understand this, however. Savant syndrome affects a similar number to autism’s 1%, yet it’s discussed less and therefore has less of a stigma surrounding it. If this can be the case, why then does the conversation need opening up for autism? Could it be that the conversation is too open, and that’s why a stigma has been created? Arguably, no. It is due to the stigma that we should talk about it more. We should break down the stigma by breaking down any communication barriers we have about autism. Nevertheless, a lot of information can be dangerous if incorrect; therefore, we need to ensure it is the right information that is discussed.
True education surrounding autism is scarce; generally only open to those affected by autism. Its negative label prevents people looking past the stereotypes. Stereotypes that many who live with autism do not portray. It is through these expectations that stigma is born. Many struggle with the judgment that surrounds the word ‘autistic’. This is one of the biggest struggles children face. Without the correct understanding, children are bullied as they are deemed different. Adults receive judgement and discrimination, but comparatively not to the same public degree as children. Personal and professional achievements are overlooked in deference to their diagnosis.
Not a simple diagnosis.
If stigma is born from ignorance, misconceptions or expectations; then autism suffers simply due to its unpredictable nature. Not everyone presents the same, which can complicate matters. People can miss out on aid or recognition soaly because they do not fit into the popular parameters. It’s not a clearly identifiable diagnosis, and so many can end up unaware of their condition. Living your life unaware of why your brain appears to be working differently to others. It can be confusing and isolating; at times creating a sense of internal resentment because you work differently for no clear reason. Autism doesn’t fit into a neat and tidy box of symptoms, signs or triggers; and due to this, people can miss out on important support.
With recognition, support becomes an option. Family members, friends, and close acquaintances can be aware and with the correct teaching, can assist when needed. Thankfully, the social work and care sector is developing their avenues for autism. If you or someone you know finds themselves struggling, various levels of support are open to suit your needs. This makes it more accessible and helps develop an adaptability to modern life; as long as they receive the correct diagnosis. That is key.
An essential part of breaking open the stigma about autism is to ensure different levels of care to help better cater for those in need. While not exclusive, the focus is on children. For many this is the time when the diagnosis arrives. Like many disabilities and learning difficulties, autism is watched out for among younger students. Unfortunately, many slip by, thus not receiving the encouragement of support they may otherwise need throughout their education. With children, such a diagnosis can be a stressful experience. Due to the lack of knowledge and positive representation, children can feel alone, regardless of how accepting their family may be. Autism is still viewed as a label that leaves them to be judged from then on.
Thankfully the conversation has began to open up, with the most prominent, recent development being Anne Hegerty while she was on ‘I’m a Celebrity‘. During her time in the jungle she was more than open about her experiences with autism and her late diagnosis. With her candour, she also shared how each aspect if jungle life affected her. She gave autism a face for the media, and made many people understand and learn. She became a positive representation in an area that it lacking. With spokespeople showcasing that autism does not conform to the stereotype and the stigma, we’re able to collectively understand it more and thereby be more aware of how to tailor support in a more suitable way. Together we can prove the stereotypes wrong and eventually take away the power of the stigma. After all, in a world where we all want to stand out and be different, surely we should be celebrating autism for allowing people to view the world from unique perspectives?
Contributed by Charlie May, University of Salford Student.
Want to find out more?
A key part of breaking down the stigma surrounding autism and those affected by it is to talk. Sharing information about how day to day experiences differ can help promote better understanding. If you’re working with someone who has autism, then make sure you look up different resources and share techniques which you find offer suitable support. That way, social work can develop into a more supportive system overall.