Should we stay stuck in the Stigma around Autism?

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By Vicky Westra

Today, the stigma of Autism is alive and well!  All we need to do to verify this is to Google the word “Autism” to see the results.  Almost everything related to autism defines it by its challenges and negative outcomes.  Things such as high unemployment rates, low independent living rates, lack of funding, shortage of programs, non-social, lacking communication skills… all of which support this conclusion.  No wonder this seems to be the case!

 

When we received the diagnosis of Pervasive Development Delay and Autism for our daughter Gabbi over 20 years ago, we immediately searched (what was available on) the internet to see what we could find.  What little we saw would scare any parent!  Unfortunately, not much has changed since then.  No wonder that when a parent receives this diagnosis for their child, or a person gets the diagnosis themselves it was such a dark day. It was for us.

 

Fast forward 10 years, when I was given the wonderful opportunity to start a training and employment program for those on the Autism Spectrum.  This was one of the biggest gifts of my life because it allowed me to start seeing Autism in a whole new light.  As I started to train and work with these wonderful and gifted young adults, I realized that many of the things I believed about the stigma of the diagnosis was completely inaccurate.

 

We initiated the program with 4 young adults who never before had been given an opportunity for employment.  When they first started, I was immediately able to spot some of the characteristics that I had come to know so very well with our own daughter.  Things like lack of eye contact, processing delays and communication challenges were very visible.  What I didn’t expect was to come to understand the true reasons why these characteristics exist.

 

Let’s take eye contact as an example.  For years we had been asking our daughter to “share her eyes” and to look at us when she was talking to us.  This is common in our neurotypical world, so it was our thought that she should “fit in” and be able to maintain good eye contact.

 

Little did I know that for many Autistics, it is difficult to maintain eye contact for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it’s challenging to listen to what one is saying and also try to interpret facial expressions.  For some, it might cause some pain or discomfort to do so and for others, it may just be very distracting.

 

To find out more about how we are misinterpreting or not understanding Autism and so much more, join our Shifter Membership program by going to https://www.autismshifts.org/become-a-member/

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