Opinion: Spreading autism awareness

Travis Askew

It’s April already and this is when we first begin to really get excited about the end of the semester, warm weather and summer break.

However, not many people know that April is also Autism Awareness Month. This is a month where we spread awareness about what autism really is and why it is so important to understand.

This is also a time when I begin to see more of the “vaccines cause autism” debate than I normally do.

Now, while I do find not vaccinating a child to be unwise, I also find that there happens to be something more disturbing about this debate on both sides.

For those who are against vaccines, I simply find it frightening that these people are more afraid of their child “contracting” autism than the very real possibility of that child’s death. These parents are willing to do anything to prevent autism from “developing” in their child, such as putting them on stringent diets and even using electroconvulsive therapy which, according to a Forbes article, the UN believes to be torture.

Some parents have gone as far as exorcisms to rid the child of autism, with one such case reported by CBS News in 2003.

What makes me the most uncomfortable is that neither the anti-vaccination, nor the pro-vaccination side, care about this fear of autism. They are more concerned about how right they are and how stupid the other side is than they are for the safety and well being of those who are on the autism spectrum.

With society being largely uneducated on what autism truly is, people have a visceral, unsettling fear of it. They believe that it is a disease, mental retardation or that those who have it are in some way dangerous.

I have heard countless parents complain about how hard it is to be the parent of someone on the spectrum, and it seems like they are more worried about the struggles they deal with rather than what their child experiences every single day.

They don’t realize that it isn’t such a picnic being autistic, either. There is a rate of 30-50 percent among those diagnosed with autism having considered suicide based on previous research. They don’t feel understood, and nobody seems to listen to what they have to say. Psychologists will report observations, yet their observations are just that.

Many people honestly believe that those with autism do not like to be near other people and that they just want to be alone. Having emotional connections with others is a necessity for not only the mental health of a human being, but also for their physical health, and those affected by autism are no exception.

I am not someone who readily states that I am on the spectrum; no matter how long I have known someone, they will look at me and treat me differently. I will not be hired at a job where I reveal my diagnosis in the interview, and I am not the only one to experience this.

Autism is not something to be afraid of, and the only way to stop people from feeling afraid is to spread awareness and to spread truth.

I am not a disease. I don’t have a condition. I am an individual who has a label, a label that is a part of my own identity but does not define me as a human being.

Travis Askew is a guest columnist, contact him at [email protected].