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Autism and Society

Autistics have significant problems working with society at large, because much of society is not aware of the characteristics of autism and the best ways to deal with it. One of the most important areas of concern is schooling. Teachers often do not have training in working with autistic students and are not aware of the communication problems they have or of effective discipline strategies.

Even though schools are required by law to provide services and accommodations to autistic students, parents often must struggle with school administrators in order to obtain these services, and much time can be spent putting together the paperwork and attending the meetings required to implement the accommodations their children need to succeed in school. Because autistics often have to miss time at school to attend therapy or other appointments, they often have a lot of make-up homework, which compounds any academic struggles they may already have.

Autistics and their families also suffer from the perceptions of people who know little or nothing about autism. Since autism is an "invisible illness" that is not readily apparent, autistics often get judged as defective humans instead of as persons suffering from a disability. They are considered "weird" or classified as "stupid" or "retarded" and sometimes treated as such regardless of their true intellectual capabilities.

Similarly, parents of autistics are criticized for the behavior of their children. When their children suffer a crisis or a meltdown in public, parents are sometimes scolded by strangers, "Why do you put up with behavior like that?" or "If I'd pulled a stunt like that when I was that age ..." or "Make your child behave!" This lack of respect adds to the stress of raising an autistic and creates self-doubt in parents who are already struggling with raising disabled children. Because of this, families are often hesitant to go out as a group.

Media also does autistics a disservice when it focuses on extreme or exaggerated characterizations of autism. Autistics are presented either as barely-functioning savants, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or as nerdy, introverted misfits as in the television show, The Big Bang Theory. Some shows, like the television series Touch, starring Kiefer Sutherland, even present autism as a kind of superpower where an obsession with numbers and cell phones enables the autistic child Jake to link threads of invisible energy that bind the world together. To some degree, autism has also been linked in the mind of the public with psychotic violence following several cases where sociopathic individuals displaying traits of autism killed 20 first-graders at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and, in another instance, shot 70 people at a theater in Aurora, Colorado that resulted in 12 deaths.

The truth, however, is that autistics are simply people who suffer from a neurological disability, and their personalities range from shy and quiet to gregarious and outgoing. In any group of autistics, you'll find people with a wide variety of interests, abilities, and opinions. They are no more prone to violence as a group than any other. Hopefully, as autism is more widely discussed in the media, people will take the opportunity to separate myth from fact about autism.

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  1. Concerns about Autism, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Kymberly Grosso, Autism in Real Life -- A Mother's Journey: Hoping, Coping & Succeeding, Psychology Today, March 3, 2011 [link]
  3. ATN/AIR-P Parent’s Guide to Applied Behavior Analysis, www.AutismSpeaks.org [link]
  4. Surén P, Roth C, Bresnahan M, et al., Association between maternal use of folic acid supplements and risk of autism in children. JAMA, 2013 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2012.155925
  5. James B. Adams, et al., Toxicological Status of Children with Autism vs. Neurotypical Children and the Association with Autism Severity. Biological Trace Element Research, 2012; 151 (2): 171 DOI: 10.1007/s12011-012-9551-1
  6. D'Onofrio BM, Rickert ME, Frans E, et al. Paternal Age at Childbearing and Offspring Psychiatric and Academic Morbidity. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.4525.
  7. Liew Z, Ritz B, Rebordosa C, Lee P, Olsen J. Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy, Behavioral Problems, and Hyperkinetic Disorders. JAMA Pediatr. 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.4914.
  8. Janie F. Shelton, Estella Marie Geraghty, Daniel J. Tancredi, Lora D. Delwiche, Rebecca J. Schmidt, Beate Ritz, Robin L. Hansen, Irva Hertz-Picciotto. Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticides: The CHARGE Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2014; DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1307044
  9. Krajmalnik-Brown, Rosa et al. Gut bacteria in children with autism spectrum disorders: challenges and promise of studying how a complex community influences a complex disease. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, [S.l.], v. 26, mar. 2015. ISSN 1651-2235. DOI://dx.doi.org/10.3402/mehd.v26.26914.
  10. Stephanie Vuillermot, Wei Luan, Urs Meyer, Darryl Eyles. Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy prevents autism-related phenotypes in a mouse model of maternal immune activation. Molecular Autism, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13229-017-0125-0

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