#2 Sight beyond Seeing: Autism

Autism has been something that has interested me for a long time, probably since I watched a documentary about it in 3rd grade. I remember being curious then about what people who are autistic are like and why we seem to be so prejudiced about them. Why do we view them as so odd? What are these people here for… what can they teach us? Being someone who understands social cues and why people act in certain ways, I think it is interesting that there are people on the opposite end who don’t see others the way I do, who think differently, whose brains are so beautifully different. Through this week, I have learned a lot, but what I’ve really been noticing is the truth that all people, no matter what their rank in life is, whether they are “normal” or “different”, or how their brains function, have a place in the world and have something to teach.

I decided to interview my uncle, who has a son on the autism spectrum. As we talked about what it was like having a son who is a little different, very quirky and super intelligent, I learned much about what autism is (not as a diagnosis, but how people’s brains work), but what I kept coming back to was the question: “how can we make autistic people part of the world?”. As my uncle told me, autism is similar to being deaf in the sense that it is very disabling. In general, people don’t seem to view it that way though. When I asked my uncle what he would like to see changed, he told me it would be important to give people knowledge to increase awareness, as well as to have people who are autistic speak about what that is like.

The second person I interviewed was my mother, who worked with children with varying learning styles as an O.T. earlier in her career. When I asked her what she would like to see changed in our understanding of autism, she said it would be to “always be positive and honoring of those around us”, as well as to look for gifts in others and have compassion, because, as she said, “everyone is doing the best they can”. She also stated that, “Kindness toward yourself means you can look on others with compassion also”.

What I found really congruent talking with both my uncle and my mom was the need to always have compassion and understanding of where others are. After my conversations, I more firmly believe that there is a place in the world for all people, and that the primary change that is needed is educating people and reminding everyone that we are all connected, human, and similar. We all have gifts, we just have to look for them, beyond the surface.

MLA:

Wheeler, Ernie. “Autism Interview.” 22 Sept. 2017.

Palmer, Esther. “Autism Interview.” 24 Sept. 2017.

Aidan Palmer

3 Responses to “#2 Sight beyond Seeing: Autism

  • Aidan:

    My name is Ben Krahn, and I am an English teacher at Middlebury Union High School. Nice to “meet” you.

    Thanks for your post. This is definitely an interesting topic.

    Pop-culture has recently loaded us with autistic characters who are portrayed and represented a certain way: Rain Man, Parenthood, Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time. Netflix and Amazon Prime have also added titles that explore characters on the spectrum, though I haven’t seen them yet.

    What I’m getting at is that, with your uncle, you have a real-life example of someone on the spectrum, and it seems like your mom also has a lot of experience as well. You might consider examining the ways in which pop-culture reveals autism and how this either furthers or narrows our understanding of this unique diagnosis. As a teacher for 14 years, I have had several students on the spectrum, and I would love to read,see and hear a more in-depth analysis of their unique perspectives on the world. Oftentimes this is not entirely possible when these students are just one among many in a classroom. My point is that we are often shielded from these unique perspectives, and it seems like that’s what you’re interested in doing: taking the mask off and exploring a particular voice that is often unheard or misrepresented.

    Stay in touch. I’m really looking forward to seeing how your research unfolds.

    Ben

    • Hi Ben,
      Thank you so much for giving me really great feedback. I have really been enjoying looking farther into what autism is and how we tend to portray people who are on the spectrum. An interesting side note is that Autism was recently taken off of the list of “disabilities” in the DSM (which is a psychology manual). This is both a blessing and a slight curse, because labels can really be a huge disadvantage. But, this also means that autism no longer is diagnosed- I believe.
      I think that the way pop culture tends to show autism is interesting. I stumbled across a documentary about the “real rain man”, which was fascinating to me. I would really recommend watching the documentary if you’re interested in learning about him. He is brilliant, but there is an interesting mentality around him which feels like exploiting his genius. I wanted people to just love him as he was, and not expect him to act the same as the rest of us. Also, the director of Rain Man sounded like he had very good motives. He wanted to help him. I’m not sure if this is very normal in the movie business, but it sounded special to me.
      I hope that my writing is bringing to the surface what I believe we need to do to change some issues in the autism world, and that you are getting some insight into some of what your students may be feeling.
      Thank you so much for the valuable questions and ideas! I would love to look into what it is like to be autistic in schools in Vermont.
      Thank you again!
      Aidan

  • Avery Murray-Gurney
    4 years ago

    I think your idea about being compassionate and understanding is a great one to keep in mind while you progress with your project, and I’m curious about where it will lead you. I’m excited to see where you see a need for change and what you decide to do about that.

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