We’re all used to the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” for someone who is on the autism scale in some way. However, a change is being demanded from our Northern nation; Scotland want to ‘redefine’ autism as a difference not a disorder. This is an important step towards an end to the stigma surrounding autism and understanding that being diagnosed with ASD is not as debilitating as the stereotypes make it out to be. Linking in with #AutismAwarenessWeek this week, a Scottish partnerships is announcing its intention to advocate for the name change, as part of a process to enable autistic people to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Now, while it’s not the entirety of the Scottish nation who are requesting this, it’s still symbolic of the drive to promote equality and rewire society’s psyche to see autism less as a condition that needs curing, but just a different way of approaching the world. The charge is being led by Inspiring Scotland, an organisation working “towards a Scotland where everyone, no matter who they are, no matter where they live, or the circumstances they are born into, has the chance to enjoy a happy, healthy life free from poverty or disadvantage”. Working with the Scottish Government, Queen Margaret University and Scottish Autism, this campaign is dedicated to showcasing what autism really looks like and the positive contributions those on the spectrum can make. After all, some of the biggest breakthroughs come from just seeing the world in a slightly different way, so shouldn’t this “disorder” be celebrated for the potential for innovation?
Words have power. Although Juliet famously said: “what’s in a name?”, we can’t deny that names have an intrinsic hold over our psyche. A name conjures a particular image, sentiment and value; without us having any control over it. This then drives how we think about something or someone, and how we act towards it/them. Therefore, if you define someone with a “disorder”, they are immediately seen as a victim of an illness or at the mercy of a condition. The term “poor thing” will always come to mind. There’s also the notion that this may not always last forever; that they could be cured. Hence, there’s been a negative association with the terminology for autism for years, as it’s been classed as a “disorder”. Realistically though, autism provides a wonderful opportunity for out of the box thinking, creativity and insight into new areas; which in an era of uniformity and homogeneity across both products and individuals, is a very welcome change.
At face value, this seems like the start of a good journey for not just Scotland but the whole of the UK; helping us all progress to a more inclusive society. However, you can’t help but thinking, is this the stand to take?
We recently wrote about the struggle that autistic adults face when trying to integrate into society, so would efforts not be better served campaigning for revised employment standards or an increase in community programmes so that they feel less isolated? While moving away from the term ‘disorder’ is important in the campaign towards equality for those on the autism spectrum; surely the better move would be to ensure that appropriate safeguarding and inclusive structures are in place? There are around 700,000 people with autism in the UK, but more often than not, we’re hearing about how they are discriminated against, not supported enough in work or school and face unnecessary challenges. There aren’t enough support systems in place for children who have autism so that they get the most out of education that they can, or for adults to thrive in a work setting. Our society is too rigid, based around people who’s brains operate in one way, so those who fit into a different box struggle.
Whether it’s a difference or a disorder to you, or you’re simply not bothered about the name; one thing must remain true: autistic people face a stigma that needs to end. We need to do better in showing our acceptance for those who view the world in a unique way, fostering their individuality and celebrating their difference.
While you're here...
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.