The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

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Autistic stereotypes

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Rain Man snapshot

Rain Man (1988) - Courtesy MGM Studios

I forgot to follow up on my promise of elaborating on autistic stereotypes on the heels of the Obama and racism post. I’ll rectify that problem now.

This article from CNN helps explain a far too familiar scenario for parents of autistic children. Going off what I said in my last post, people unfamiliar with autism often see autistic children as bratty, out-of-control kids victimized by poor parenting. A culture that used to advocate shielding autistic children from the public because of a lack of understanding may have played a role in the current sociological climate. Their behaviors, caused by lack of social expertise, often draw unwanted attention.

I feel that these socially awkward forms of getting attention are absorbed as odd because autism hasn’t received much mainstream coverage until a couple years ago. Because conditions can vary, there isn’t any single, concrete characteristic that identifies a child with autism versus a child with another disorder. Despite the parallels, the lack of a definitive trait mirrors the lack of a concrete way to identify autism clinically. No blood tests, CAT scans or images of any kind can detect autism. Until one is found, it truly is a case of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

I chose a screenshot of Rain Man because while autism itself hasn’t had enough exposure to warrant stereotypes like ethnic backgrounds, some controversial comments made my prominent figures do highlight one perception of autism that was used to drive the story in the Academy Award-winning film: that autism is made up.

It’s an easy assumption to make because they look just like everyone else. However, people who have multiple ethnicities in their heritage also may not show qualities of one background, but they still identify with what makes them who they are. Even if they show all their cards, they’re subjected to discrimination as many biracial people of African-American and Caucasian descent were and still are to an extent. People affected by bipolar disorder or seasonal affective disorder also hide their faces. They may not have the social problems of autistic people, but they’re difficult to spot with the naked eye.

Unfortunately, the only way to end any claim about autism being made up is to find an indisputable form of detection. Right now, that doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon. On the other hand, finding a cause may also create new forms of stereotyping, something that takes years, decades, or even centuries to remove and even then, they may not be gone for good.

While there may not be a stereotype related to autism, recent stories address another one (if autism is only seen through the news). WCCO published a story last week about the Minneapolis school district seeing a higher rate of autism in children of Somali descent than other nationalities. While boys are far more likely to be diagnosed than women, autism itself can affect anyone of any ethnic group. While there haven’t been any problems, most TV news stories report on Caucasians affected by autism. There may be a legitimate reason for the skew in coverage, such as a lack of diagnosis or resources with others, but if someone asked me what is the most important thing people should know about autism, I’d say it’s not only a white person’s problem.

Written by TheSportsBrain

April 8, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Posted in autism, stereotype