This post is a paper written by a wonderful young woman, Katy Heyborne, who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. She has graciously shared it with me, and given me permission to share it with others.
High functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders Shouldn’t Be Cured, Rather the Positive Aspects of them should Be Considered. Autism Spectrum disorders affect the lives of about 1 in 110 U.S kids today. Individuals affected with one form of high functioning Autism have difficulties learning language. (Raymond, Para. 1-3, 1) However, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome differ as they typically don’t have language delays. Some people believe Autism should be cured because of the individuals with language delays, believing that they wouldn’t be able to overcome these barriers. However, this argument is weak since Temple Grandin (an autistic individual) was unable to speak at first. Instead, she would scream and hum, however, by the time she was four she learned to speak. (Raymond, Para.1-3) As individuals with high functioning Autism Spectrum disorders, we should be considered differently abled instead of disabled. We are just like the so called “normal” person; we just have some characteristics that make us as a group unique and special. (Whitfield, par. 5, 1)
Parents who wish their child could be cured
I am an individual with a high functioning Autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger’s Syndrome. I realize that there are many parents out there wishing their child with an Autism Spectrum disorder was cured. However, if or when the child ends up overhearing the parent saying they wish the child didn’t have Autism they get hurt feelings because they feel as if their parent may not love them or wishes they didn’t exist. (Burne, Par.3, 6) This is because it is hard for the child to realize their parent probably is just saying that they wish they were cured because they believe the child would be basically the same person as before, but without the struggles it had before. This argument is weak since characteristics such as personality traits, experiences, thoughts and senses, which the individual with Autism spectrum disorder has can actually help in defining who they are and will become. (Burne, Par.3, 2)
Many individuals with high functioning Autism spectrum disorder make bizarre repetitive movements which people sometimes refer to as stimming. (Raymond, Para. 1) They may rock back and forth, pace around a room, or flap their hands up and down. Some people wanting Autism cured believe this way because they feel stimming behaviors are damaging to the Autistic individuals learning and development. This argument is weak since many people don’t realize that even normal people stim. For example, during football games you see normal people repeatedly moving their feet back and forth and stomping them, and doing so doesn’t seem to damage to their learning and development. (Burne, Par.5, 5) The only difference is that as Autistic’s we tend to stim more often then the normal person, usually when we are nervous or excited.
Besides, individuals with high functioning Autism or Asperger’s don’t always stim by pacing, rocking or hand-flapping; we can also stim in other ways too and can learn to control or channel them into more appropriate methods of stimming. For example, I used to bite on the collars of my shirts from the time I was nine until I was about twelve, whenever I’d get nervous or upset. After a while I got tired of biting my shirts, since I would have to go to school with holes in the collars of them. So I ended up developing more appropriate methods of stimming such as by tapping my sides when I get nervous or shaking my legs , or tapping my fingers on a desk. I learned that by stimming in these ways you can still get the relief you need from being nervous, but don’t draw as much attention to yourself.
Individuals with Autism Spectrum disorders also have difficulties with social skills and because of these difficulties some parents and other individuals argue that, if cured, we wouldn’t have as much difficulty as before in the development of social skills. However, 20-year old Autism activist Ari Ne’eman, who is an individual with a high functioning Autistic spectrum disorder, states that although individuals with Autism Spectrum disorders typically struggle with learning social skills it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn them. Although we do tend to struggle with social skills we can still be successful in social interactions if accepted for who we are as individuals. (Solomon, Par. 2, 1) Besides, we can be taught many social skills that the normal person knows. One of the best ways to teach these individuals social skills would be if parents and teachers help the Autistic individual develop then by working with them in both individual and group settings. For example I was in social skills groups at the University of Utah and Primary Children’s Medical center from the time I was 13 until I was 16. Even before then I had been working both individually and in groups of students in my resource class with my resource teacher Mrs. Curtin on turn-taking skills and using eye-contact. True, I still struggle sometimes with turn-taking and interrupting however, because of support of parents, teachers and social skills groups I have overcome most of my struggles with these social skills.
Besides, we also have positive social skills that most people typically don’t have. For example, I tend to blurt out my thoughts and beliefs sometimes without even thinking. This is because I, like many people with high functioning Autism Spectrum disorders, am direct and honest. Meaning that we tend to have a hard time censoring what we are saying which can actually be a positive for me and others on the spectrum. Since, we are less likely to lie then the normal person . . . and what if curing us caused us to lose this positive ability? We probably wouldn’t blurt out our thoughts as much, but would probably also end up losing our child like quality of saying what is on our minds. Besides, even normal children have to learn what is appropriate to say and what is not. The person with high functioning Autism or Asperger’s can also become successful in learning what is appropriate to say in social situations and what is not, and with guidance and support making us better able to censor our thoughts. However, just like the “normal” person who sometimes says how they feel and hurts others feelings accidently we will still have times where this occurs and, like them, we are most likely frustrated or confused about something and actually mean no harm in what we are saying. (Parker Par.2, 2)
“Society is what needs to change, not Autistic people.”(Solomon, Par.3, 1) If society looked into the life of a person that is on the Autistic spectrum they would notice that these individuals enjoy routines or sameness. (Lyons and Fitzgerald, Perkins, et al., 290-291) Individuals who are high functioning for example may fail to make eye-contact however, they also often have a single obsession with a topic which can be both strange and yet genius.(Parker, par.3,1) I myself struggled with eye contact when I was young and was totally obsessed with cats from the time I was 8 until I was 18. I however, knew tons of information about them and could identify over 20 cat breeds just by looking at the pictures of the cats. Now that I am older I have developed other interests both in different animals and different areas.
These obsessions can be used as a gift. For example, in 2007 a 21-year old girl on Americas Next Top Model, Heather Kuzmich (who has Asperger’s Syndrome), made it on the show as one of the 13 girls. When the show aired viewers were able to hear her publicly disclose that she had Asperger’s Syndrome. (Parker, par. 1, 1 & par.9, 2) Her odd behaviors on the show in photos, walking on the runway, and even talking to people on the show and in interviews actually were an advantage to her. Her uniqueness in appearance and behavior and expressing herself actually were what set her apart from her room-mates on the show and made her fashionable. She struggled with eye-contact in interviews, but was able to give direct eye-contact in photos which seemed to amaze Tyra Banks, Nigel Barker and the 60′s fashion model Twiggy. (Parker, par.6, 2)
Famous people on the spectrum
Just by appearing on America’s Next Top Model in 2007 Heather Kuzmich helped raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders. She also showed that those with the disorder can be successful and overcome society’s expectations; because she made top 5 out of the 13 models on the show. Even the pop-star Enrique Iglesias was so amazed by how unique Heather Kuzmich looked that he chose her to be the main character in a music video. Therefore, Heather Kuzmich was able to show society that those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome can overcome many challenges and don’t need to be cured rather; people should see there are positive aspects in terms of being differently abled. (Parker, par. 8& 9, 2 & par.1-2, 3)
Attention to detail and other strengths
These individuals also are able to pay much more attention to details than the general population. (Whitefield, par.2, 2) This attention to detail is strength rather then a weakness because “Autism researchers have reported that those with Autism have 30% more white matter.” (Burne, par.6, 2) which is where that brains axons are surrounded by a fatty tissue called myelin. (Nelson, C, A. Et al., 166-167)Why this is significant is because the white matter in the brain allows these individuals brains to process messages faster then the normal person. (Burne, par.6, 2)
Michelle Dawson is an Autism advocate working at the University of Montreal that has compiled evidence showing many individuals with Autism Spectrum disorders are superior to the so called “Normal” people in many ways. They are better at doing visual searches, meaning remembering images or written instructions over words. These individuals also tend to be better at remembering auditory pitches of voices and usually can process information faster than the normal person. Most interestingly however is that those with Autism Spectrum disorders are much less likely then a normal person to remember things wrong. (Burne, par.10, 2) Because people with Autism Spectrum disorders develop interests, they typically are able to have good memories for factual information such as names, numbers and dates in these areas. Besides, once they learn a new piece of information the may never forget it. (Lyons and Fitzgerald, Perkins, et al., 291)
The way a person’s with Autism spectrum disorders brain works might just have allowed Issac Newton and Einstein the scientists to make their discoveries. (Burne, par. 4, 3) People with Autistic Spectrum disorders tend to have better attention to details and tend to have abilities such as higher math, computer skills or talents with art or music that most people don’t have. (Whitfield, par.2, 2) For example a boy named Joseph showed very early interest in learning letters. He was a very bright little boy and was able to teach himself to read before he was 3. (Dawson, Ozonoff, McPartland, 3)
My special abilities
I myself have had my own unique special abilities ever since I was young, ones that I can’t actually explain how I developed the abilities. For example ever since I very young I have been a visual person and have developed many talents I couldn’t really explain. I have been very creative and able to mix a variety of different colors I have always viewed the world differently in colors and in arts and animals. I have always been a caring person and seem to be able to learn and understand a certain type of animal such as a dog, cat, or guinea pig easily because once I get interested in these animals I learn everything that I possibly can about them. Like many people with Asperger’s or High functioning Autism I have overcome many challenges with learning and social skills so I personally know that we are not necessarily disabled, we just have different abilities.
Thanks are due to Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin is another person with Autism that overcame many challenges. She is 62 now and is successful in spite of the fact that she has Autism. In fact she is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and well known lecturer both on Autism and Animals. (Raymond, par. 1-3) She is also an advocate for those who have Autism Spectrum disorders. She is the person who made designs to make it so that livestock animals such as cattle could be slaughtered more humanely. Because of these recognitions, she earned an award for ethically treating animals. Her life is now portrayed in the movie “Temple Grandin” and is about her memories of living with the disorder. (Raymond, par.1-3) Temple Grandin has overcome many obstacles and is one of the people who is inspiring, showing the world that people with high functioning Autism and Asperger’s don’t need to be cured.
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