Autism Awareness this April

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Madison Crumpton

Autism Spectrum Disorder is something that affects a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. The “puzzle piece” shown in the photo is known in the autism community as something that spreads awareness, yet flaunts the diversity and complexity of autism and the people it affects (Photo courtesy of Madison Crumpton).

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability. It is known for the social, communicative, and behavioral issues that are present within those diagnosed with ASD. Autism is a broad word that covers a spectrum of conditions: Asperger syndrome, autistic disorder, and more. According to Autism Speaks, the subtypes of Autism are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Challenges vary greatly from person to person; some people need help and structure everyday, while others live and operate independently. A few other issues people with autism face are sensory sensitivity to lights and sound and medical problems such as sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. 

“In my own words, autism can be defined as a gift of a creative mind, with some social issues to be aware of and cope with. Depending on how mild or severe the symptoms are, the people on the spectrum do not always get the recognition I believe they earn for what they can overcome and accomplish,” said community contributor to Noodle.com and columnist for All 4 Autism, Mike Westwood.

Cole Crumpton is my 14 year old brother. He was diagnosed with “mild autism” at the age of three. When Cole was younger, my family had several therapists come in twice a week to work on the development of his motor skills, sensory skills, and to help with his slowed development in his speaking skills. This continued throughout his elementary school career. Where I was the social butterfly in the family, Cole would barely talk to our family or make new friends. I kept the same friends throughout school, but Cole could barely keep a few. I spoke English fine while Cole couldn’t make the sound of the letter ‘r’ and had a limited vocabulary. 

Everyone in the family had to make their lives’ revolve around Cole. Fireworks were not allowed on holidays; the sound and lights scared him. He didn’t like candles. Sneaking up and saying “boo” made him cry, and scared him more than it was intended to. Structure was a constant; we did the same things everyday. Cole ate most of the same things, went to the same places, and saw the same people. Failure to comply with daily structure or any slight change that Cole was not made well aware of ahead of time, resulted in a meltdown. 

Starting elementary school was tough: meltdowns, running out of classrooms, hiding under tables, and of course struggling with a learning disability. Cole was still in the resource classroom learning how to make the sound of an ‘r’, while his classmates were learning about the states of matter and compound words. It’s not that he was “dumb” or anything like that, he just processed things slower. All the other kids our age talked about Disney channel shows and the latest toys, including myself. Cole talked about legos, dinosaurs, video games, sharks, and knew all kinds of random facts about Earth. He still talks about the same things today, years later. He has always had a hard time keeping up with the change of life; he was always two paces behind everyone else when it came to what was “cool” or “popular”. He has a hard time picking up on sarcasm, recognizing when someone is just teasing him, picking up on jokes, or even references to movies and such. 

AJ Center is my 13 year old cousin. AJ was also diagnosed with mild autism when he was little. Like Cole, he has a hard time picking up on social cues, has always been fascinated by the same things ever since he was little, and has a very short attention span. This is where the similarity stops; both boys have ADHD, but AJ’s ADHD is more of an obstacle. AJ has always been obsessed with Power Rangers, video games, and Pokémon. Although AJ has a learning disability, he is a little quicker to catch up to the group than Cole.

Being the other cousin, the only girl, and the only one without Autism, I was vastly different. I couldn’t “not care” about what they were fascinated by at the time, or I would cause a meltdown for them. The boys couldn’t possibly understand why I wouldn’t want to hear about Pikachu or the debate on which type of penguin was the best… again, for the umpteenth time. I also couldn’t tell the boys about things I cared about because they were too busy with the things they liked. I had about 6 seconds to say what I wanted before their attention span moved on to the next thing. 

But being so different was also so good. I understood people like them better; I feel like it made me more of an understanding person, more compassionate, and the boys helped me create many relationships with people that I never would have had without them. On top of that, I bet I can name more sharks than the average Joe. 

“I think doing what I have done and being exposed to all different types of kids with a lot of different types of disabilities… makes me realize that people’s worlds are all different,” said resource teacher Quentin Grant. 

Autism isn’t a disease. Autism is a disability. While there is no specific treatment to “get rid of it” there are other ways to help alleviate the amount of difficulties that the child or adult will face. For example, there is therapy to help with learning disabilities, social behaviors, and to help learn how to accomplish everyday tasks. 

“As far as autism being ‘treated’, if that means by medicine, no medications have been created to treat the symptoms,” Westwood told the Bengal Beat.

According to this website, as of 2018, the CDC said that 1 in 59 are diagnosed with ASD. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls will be diagnosed with autism. Autism affects all ethnic groups and all economic classes. 

“The one thing they want most in the world is to be treated like everybody else. They want to be spoken to, they want you to make eye contact with them, they want you to treat them just like other people. And a lot of people don’t do that. Instead, they feel pity,” added Grant.

This April I encourage you to learn more about Autism to help you gain a better understanding of the challenges that those diagnosed with it face daily. I encourage you to be kinder to people that fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorder umbrella, and the people that don’t. Become a little selfless and celebrate Autism Awareness Month, and when April ends…celebrate Autism Awareness every day. 

For more information on Autism visit here.