Today is November 1st 2010 and today we are encouraged to stop talking to foster a greater understanding of the social challenges faced by people with autism. I have to say that I don't like that idea.
People who struggle with autism are forced by their autism to be silent each and every day during the year and yet another day of silence is not what they need. What they need is for the world to understand exactly what autism is - and isn't - as well as what can be done to help them overcome their disability.
Autism is a profound developmental disability that affects more and more people - especially children - each year. Autism disrupts a person's verbal and non-verbal communication skills, makes it harder for them to interact with other people socially, and limits their ability to tolerate changes in their environment.
Autism is not about being just being socially awkward, shy, or quiet nor is it about being technologically proficient. A person with autism does not always have special gifts that compensates for their lost abilities. Autism is not just about being "different".
Autism is a crippling disorder that robs people of abilities that they would normally posses. It robs them of the ability to live a "normal" life. In the many cases, it robs them of the ability to be self sufficient and take care of their own basic needs.
As of today, science knows very little about what autism is, what causes it, or even if it is becoming more common (p.s. it is). As of today, autism has no known cure and precious few treatment options.
In short, autism sucks.
But, in spite of all of that, a person with autism is not a lost cause. A diagnosis of autism does not mean a person is beyond help and should be discarded or institutionalized. A person with autism is still a person and still deserves the same level of acceptance and respect as everyone else.
Autism is something that a person can have but it does not have to be something that has the person. A person with autism can, with help, overcome the limitations imposed by autism.
The problem is that there are no one size fits all approaches to dealing with a disorder like autism. As the saying goes, if you know one person with autism then you know just one person with autism. Each person with autism has their own unique set of problems and each and every problem needs its own unique solution.
But still, it is possible to slowly chip away at the disabling aspects of autism and help a person with autism to reach their full potential. I am not going lie and say that this is a quick or easy process. There is no quick fix when it comes to autism but there could be a slow, methodical one that takes years upon years. The challenge is to find the solution that will work for a specific person.
So today, instead of thinking about the silence that autism can bring, I would ask you to instead think about how you can best help a person with autism overcome their disability. Today, the goal should be to be help them throw away the "with autism" and become the person that they can be.