Fi­ve things about au­tism that ever­yo­ne should know

Me­dia sto­ries that get it wrong can con­tri­bu­te to how others per­cei­ve tho­se with au­tism - and per­pe­tua­te po­ten­tially dan­ge­rous ste­reoty­pes

La Jornada (Canada) - - ENGLISH SECTION -

Too of­ten, well-mea­ning jour­na­lists get it wrong when they wri­te about au­tism. It’s not so much the con­tent of their sto­ries that mis­ses the mark as the lan­gua­ge they use to des­cri­be au­tism.

It can be easy to unin­ten­tio­nally of­fend - or wor­se, mis­re­pre­sent - the au­tism com­mu­nity they are meant to des­cri­be.

Why does it mat­ter?

Sto­ries that get it wrong can con­tri­bu­te to how others per­cei­ve tho­se with au­tism - and even per­pe­tua­te po­ten­tially dan­ge­rous ste­reoty­pes. So Au­tism Ca­na­da has re­cently de­ve­lo­ped a gui­de to help jour­na­lists na­vi­ga­te the lan­gua­ge of au­tism in a ba­lan­ced and ac­cu­ra­te man­ner.

The gui­de al­so con­tains a few im­por­tant facts that ever­yo­ne should know about au­tism and will help you se­pa­ra­te fact from fic­tion.

Au­tism is not an ‘enemy’ or a ‘gift.’

Au­tism or au­tism spec­trum di­sor­der (ASD) is a com­plex neu­ro­bio­lo­gi­cal con­di­tion that im­pacts brain de­ve­lop­ment and is cha­rac­te­ri­zed by com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­blems, dif­fi­culty with ty­pi­cal so­cial in­te­rac­tions, a ten­dency to re­peat spe­ci­fic pat­terns of beha­viour and a mar­kedly res­tric­ted re­per­toi­re of ac­ti­vity and in­ter­ests.

Whi­le it may be mo­re dra­ma­tic for a news story to call for a “war on au­tism,” this por­trays au­tism as an enemy to be de­fea­ted, not a con­di­tion that so­meo­ne li­ves with daily that may con­fer iden­tity and that may in­clu­de be­ne­fits, too.

At the sa­me ti­me, li­ving with au­tism can be a daily strug­gle for many in­di­vi­duals and their fa­mi­lies. So me­dia de­pic­tions of au­tism as a spe­cial “gift” are not ba­lan­ced de­pic­tions eit­her.

In other words, au­tism is of­ten as­so­cia­ted with po­si­ti­ve and ne­ga­ti­ve at­tri­bu­tes for tho­se af­fec­ted by it, and the fa­mi­lies that sup­port them. It is com­plex and mul­ti-fa­ce­ted. So don’t buy in­to de­pic­tions of au­tism that too of­ten over­sim­plify the li­ved ex­pe­rien­ce.

Li­ving with au­tism is not ho­pe­less.

A great many mo­re sup­ports are avai­la­ble for in­di­vi­duals with au­tism and their fa­mi­lies than in the past. It’s very ra­re whe­re not­hing can be do­ne to im­pro­ve the qua­lity of li­fe and fun­ctio­nal ca­pa­city of an au­tis­tic per­son. You should re­ject de­pic­tions that imply not­hing can be do­ne for in­di­vi­duals with au­tism, or de­pict the outlook or po­ten­tial of an au­tis­tic li­fe as bleak.

The­re are evi­den­ce-ba­sed sup­ports and op­tions avai­la­ble that can im­pro­ve the health and in­de­pen­den­ce of tho­se with au­tism.

Au­tism al­so in­ter­sects with many other com­pli­ca­ted so­cial is­sues such as health and well-being, education and em­ploy­ment, ac­cep­tan­ce and iden­tity. Be su­re to se­pa­ra­te what is au­tism and what is of­ten th­rust upon tho­se with au­tism, but could be chan­ged th­rough so­cial, eco­no­mic and com­mu­nity sup­ports, or even a chan­ge in outlook.

Avoid terms that are de­mea­ning.

Terms such as ‘slow,’ ‘sim­ple,’ ‘spe­cial’ or ‘ab­nor­mal’ are inac­cu­ra­te and de­mea­ning. Au­tis­tic in­di­vi­duals are dif­fe­rent. Their minds work dif­fe­rently. When tal­king about so­meo­ne with au­tism, you can ack­now­led­ge or des­cri­be the cha­llen­ges they fa­ce wit­hout de­fi­ning them as lac­king or de­via­ting from the norm.

Ack­now­led­ging the per­son is pa­ra­mount.

When you talk about so­meo­ne with au­tism, keep in mind that you are dis­cus­sing an in­di­vi­dual and not just a neu­ro­bio­lo­gi­cal con­di­tion. You can be res­pect­ful of the in­di­vi­dual by using such terms as “has au­tism,” “is au­tis­tic” or “is on the au­tism spec­trum.” Avoid sa­ying “suf­fers from au­tism” be­cau­se this as­su­mes that au­tism is a ne­ga­ti­ve part of a per­son’s li­fe.

Looks can be de­cei­ving.

In­di­vi­duals who ha­ve au­tism don’t look a cer­tain way. Des­cri­bing so­meo­ne by sa­ying that “they don’t look li­ke they ha­ve au­tism” can lea­ve the im­pres­sion that they don’t deser­ve the sup­ports they need. Ins­tead, you can learn a lot by as­king in­di­vi­duals with au­tism how au­tism af­fects them and their fa­mi­lies, and what ty­pe of sup­ports or ac­com­mo­da­tions they re­qui­re.

Re­flec­ting on au­tism in a mo­re nuan­ced man­ner using the­se basic poin­ters can help you avoid sim­plis­tic de­pic­tions and un­ders­tand the true, li­ved ex­pe­rien­ces of tho­se on the au­tism spec­trum and tho­se who sup­port them.-TROYMEDIA

Lau­rie Maw­lam has been exe­cu­ti­ve di­rec­tor of Au­tism Ca­na­da sin­ce 2006. In 2007, she foun­ded the Ca­na­da Au­tism Spec­trum Di­sor­der Allian­ce (CASDA) with other key au­tism lea­ders. She sits as past-chair and trea­su­rer. She has par­ti­ci­pa­ted in Se­na­te and Hou­se of Com­mons com­mit­tee hea­rings, has sat on nu­me­rous wor­king groups to lead us to a Na­tio­nal Au­tism Stra­tegy and has been an ASD cham­pion sin­ce one of her th­ree sons was diag­no­sed with au­tism in July 2000.

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