Guest Column: What autism teaches us

Tim Mikes

I have always been an advocate for others. As a child adopted from Russia, I was developmentally delayed and could not speak English. No one knew at that time I had Asperger’s syndrome. I was placed in a developmentally-handicapped classroom with speech and occupational therapy, and had an aide to assist me.

My classmates had more severe and noticeable handicaps, like Down syndrome and epilepsy. They were often bullied and teased; that infuriated me. As I learned English and progressed out of special education classes, I always defended and advocated for those students.

I volunteered at Akron Children’s Hospital as college student. There, I helped provide patient services. I oriented family members to resources in the hospital, visited patients and assisted nurses with cleaning and stocking equipment.

Currently, I am volunteering on a taskforce at Kent State for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The taskforce is comprised of students who are both on and off the spectrum, as well as faculty from various departments that provide student services.

Working on this taskforce allows me to bring awareness and understanding to those who are unfamiliar with autism. I am helping to educate those on some of the difficulties I face and potential problems others on the spectrum might encounter.

More importantly, I am trying to develop specific actions and policies that can be implemented to coordinate the resources that are available to help these students. These services are currently disconnected, and most students and faculty are unaware they even exist.

There is a serious need to develop effective policies and strategies to accommodate those on the spectrum because they have untapped potential that is not being utilized. Without this effort, we as a human population miss the opportunity to utilize our full potential. Some of the world’s true geniuses like Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Michelangelo were thought to be on this spectrum.

The ability of society to understand that difference is not a negative difference, but a positive one that can lead to new and better ways of doing things that are critically important. Different thinking is what has led to the advancement of society. Understanding people who are different and providing accommodations to enable them to contribute to society matters very deeply to me.

As an individual with Asperger’s, I am confounded that the perception of the disorder is often equated with mental retardation and intellectual disability, meaning that I am inferior to others simply because I have different ways of seeing the world.

Many people tell me that I am a friendly, empathetic, intelligent individual. I am not a stereotype; I am a person with autism who has potential and has much to contribute to society given accommodations, understanding, respect, support and an equal opportunity.

Much work needs to be done to achieve acceptance and acknowledgement in society and remove this inequality.

Tim Mikes is a guest columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].