Much work still needs to be done in autism. This should begin with understanding the health issues that are associated with this condition. But it must go further to include freely available, suitable educational provisions and support structures for the inclusion and well being of adults. Underpinning this, governmental and human right regulations need strengthening.
Importantly, independence, choice, inclusion, valuing people implies a true and fundamental respect of people with autism. Trivial and simple but essentially important are the attitudes we have towards them and their condition. We all carry these within ourselves, consciously and subconsciously, but they can be changed to the positive benefit of the people with autism and their families
Attitudes towards autism
The most commonly encountered attitudes seen are discomfort and rejection, making it invisible. The reasons for this may be very diverse, but are likely entrenched in our deepest evolutionary make-up; our primeval chance for survival in the early environments in which our species evolved was to socialise which implies a rejection of people who could compromise the chances of social survival, i.e. the disabled, the sick, the elderly, the outsiders. This rejection is unlikely to result from our education, because it can be seen even in very young neuro-typical children, however as argued below it can be changed through culture and education. This rejection translates into various forms of abuse and bullying. This can cause incredible distress to people who are different, resulting in life-long depression, stress, isolation and a sense of purposelessness.
Attitudes can be modulated
The knowledge we have gained in recent years of autism, thanks particularly to growing numbers of reports made by individuals with autism, their families and advocates, have helped the general population to understand this condition better. Behaviours which were incomprehensible, such as sudden bursts of distress, various forms of repetitive behaviour, misunderstanding of people’s intentions, or alternative learning processes, are now becoming understandable.
There is no unique way of learning, seeing the world, interacting with the environment and people. Most advances in science, art, philosophy and even in the specific understanding of relationships, one of the core difficulties seen in autism, often emanates from people who have the gifts to think outside the general modalities of analysis and interpretation, who have the determination and perseverance to pursue unpopular ideas, who have a different clarity of mind and understanding because their perception and attention to parameters, their form of learning are different. These are all attributes commonly seen in autism. Why shouldn’t the general population embrace this diversity?
This increased knowledge has also helped the general population to challenge the notion of normality, and to see that most neuro-typical people also display the same range of behaviours, though at much reduced level and usually within compatible socio-cultural norms. This raises the issue of normality, when and who should decide if a behaviour is acceptable or not? This is certainly a very blurred area, filled with subjectivity and pre-conceptions that we can decide to re-evaluate and change at anytime, like now.
Being sincerely positive about autism helps reducing stress and likeliness of depression, helps communication, helps inclusion. This is the place where we begin when we meet a person with autism for the first time. A sincere attitude of acceptance, a sincere desire to learn about that person, to make the time together non-judgemental, not goal-orientated, with the simple aim to be with this person, as he or she has decided to be at that very moment, an uniqueness of being with a full appreciation of the instant. Any perceived discomfort is an opportunity to challenge the likely subjective and personal reasons for that discomfort. This is an incredible life-lesson that we can all benefit from. And it leads yet to more positives. Our enhanced awareness and perception often leads to fuller reciprocal communication and mutual understanding. Our journey as partners then can begin.