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Breaking myths of autism awareness month

On the Spectrum

April is Autism Awareness Month, making it a perfect time to read up on studies and broaden one’s understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With that in mind, there’s a wide body of misinformation concerning exactly what the disorder is, how it comes about, and what people with autism actually need. To celebrate Autism Awareness Month, try breaking one or two of the myths surrounding the subject.

Photo: Genessa Gutzait • CU Denver Sentry

ASD is a cognitive disorder that affects a person’s social skills and sensory processing. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that every 1 in 50 children will be diagnosed with ASD in the United States. However, ASD doesn’t just affect children; many adults have to manage the disorder as well. ASD can affect both social and occupational skills making it difficult for some who fall on the spectrum to earn a traditional income.

Despite much of the research being done at the Center for Disease Control, autism is not a disease. This is a fact that the folks at Autism Speaks have a tendency to forget. The organization continually spouts rhetoric that compares autism to diseases like cancer, personifies ASD as a kidnapper of children, and marginalizes autistic voices. One example of Autism Speaks campaigning was their “I Am Autism” commercial that comes off more as a propaganda scare tactic than a autism advocacy message, including comparisons to cancer, diabetes, and AIDS. However, the organization has made a recent upswing, removing incendiary statements and commercials from their website and social media. They’ve even put out a series of self-advocacy commercials, attempting to cast the spotlight back onto autistic individuals. Despite this, the organization remains in disfavor by and large among the autistic community.

There are, however, many organizations that help support people with ASD. At CU Denver, for example, students with autism can seek help at the office for Disability Resources and Services. Another helpful resource is the the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), which is lead by autistic professionals.

In the most recent budget report from Autism Speaks, the organization only spent around 4 percent of their multi-million dollar budget on “Family Services.” Even though recently the organization has been moving in a different direction, Autism Speaks hasn’t reported any financial statements since 2014. For an organization with such a shady track record, this lack of transparency doesn’t bode well for possible donors looking to help support the autistic community.

Beyond the statistics and organizations, one thing truly matters this month: the people. People with ASD are as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. Though some people may be easy to identify, many others live relatively normal lives society. What’s paramount is understanding. Talk to someone you know that’s on the spectrum or reach out to work with those you don’t. Either way, by focusing on the community rather than the rhetoric, you might just make a new friend and learn something in the process.

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