As you might know, people with developmental disabilities have impacted me in a way I wouldn’t have expected five years ago. I didn’t understand what it meant to have special needs and I didn’t know what a friendship might look like. As ashamed as I am to admit that, I think there are other people out there who don’t understand either. (I haven’t shared a lot about my own experience with this on the blog yet, but don’t worry, I will.)
Having said that, in honor of April being Autism Awareness Month, I talked to one of my friends, Rob, about his autism, hoping to help those of you who, like I used to, have a fuzzy idea of what autism is. (You can find Rob on twitter @wwerob.)
First of all, I asked Rob about what words people use that might be offensive. Obviously, everyone has their own opinion of what is hurtful, but I think Rob’s answer makes a good point. He said that it isn’t about which word you use, but it’s about how you use it. If you’re doing your best to respect people, that intention will shine through the way you say things.
That is, with the exception of the r-word. Clearly, the use of this word is disrespectful. In Rob’s opinion, calling someone the r-word is like saying they are “dumb”, “an idiot”, or “not worth anything.” It has become an extremely hurtful term and there is no reason why it should be used any longer.
Rob has autism, but that’s just one part of who he is. He is an audio-video productions major who hopes to have a sports media job someday. He’s passionate about many things, but especially NASCAR and autism advocacy. He’s more organized than I will ever be and he’s friendly, honest, and hardworking.
At a young age, Rob was diagnosed with autism. Not so long ago, not even doctors knew a lot about autism, so they said that he wouldn’t do much of anything in his life. They said he wouldn’t talk or have many friends. They said he wouldn’t graduate from high school and he certainly wouldn’t go to college.
As we know now, autism can come in many forms and people with autism can accomplish many things. All of the things doctors said he wouldn’t accomplish, Rob is doing. A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not limit what you can do- Rob is proof of that.
Of course, autism is a part of Rob’s life that he has had to learn to deal with. People who have an autism spectrum disorder are often more sensitive to noise, light, or touch. Things like a camera flash or a crowded room can be overwhelming.
For many people with autism, social skills can also be a point of weakness. However, knowing his own weaknesses is one of Rob’s strengths. His autism doesn’t keep him from working on his weaknesses and coping with them.
Knowledge of those qualities can help those of us who do not have autism to give grace and understand. If you are going to use a flashing light, give a warning. Get to know the person well enough to know how to help him or her to deal with these challenges.
Despite the challenges that autism presents in his life, Rob wouldn’t want to lose it. He said, “I don’t want to get rid of my autism. If people can’t take me for everything, they’re not worth it.”
Autism Awareness Month isn’t about “finding a cure” for autism. It’s a month dedicated to learning more about autism spectrum disorders so that people with autism can be better understood. Their unique minds have something valuable to offer in friendships and in society and it’s time that they are accepted for who they are.
For more information about autism, visit