What do most people think when they hear autism? Rain Man. Yes, that’s right. Rain Man may now be 29 years old, but the image of Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond calculating at lightning speed has stuck around. More recently, Sheldon Cooper from the sitcom The Big Bang Theory could be said to fall in the autism spectrum.
But how much do we really know about autism? UC’s Diversity Festival 2017 was kicked off with a film screening and discussion (The Hunting Ground); and a talk titled ‘Understanding the Autism Spectrum’ by Dr Dean Sutherland, senior lecturer at the Communications Disorders Unit. At the heart of Dr Sutherland’s talk which I attended, was really an effort to understand how much we know and why we need to be more understanding, accepting and inclusive of those who fall into the autism spectrum.
We need to make the “different” more “comfortable.” Why? “Because they teach you more than you teach them,” said Dr Sutherland. “I prefer calling it a condition or a way of living because “disorder” sometimes has a negative connotation to it. The autism spectrum is not so much of a linear spectrum as we imagine the colour spectrum,” he added. Dr Sutherland also showed the audience a Ted Talk by Rosie King which I would recommend you to watch:
Here are things I learned about autism:
- In order for autistic children to make friends, finding common interests becomes a critical element in the support. Educational systems can improve if they understand how to teach children with autism.
- Autists can pick up things which non autistic people are completely oblivious to. Non-autistic people learn how to drown out background noise like that of the pens clicking or the fan rotating, but some people with autism can be greatly affected by the tiniest of sounds or actions which affect their senses. This sensory overload causes a significant disturbance to them.
- While non autistic people use idioms and phrases without thinking twice, people with autism have a tendency to take things literally.
- What’s good for kids with autism is usually good for all kids (in terms of learning.)
- Some people with autism will find it easy to get a job but the daily routine, the social demands of a job, its norms and conversations may get challenging. This is where joining clubs and societies with special interests may be a great way to support people.
Written by Sneha Johari