Autism: Disorder to some, Normal to Me.

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autismyearsFirst, lets establish the fact that I’m not an expert on Autism but I can look things up and I do get help from people who are experts.

Try this statistic: according to the CDC one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. Now, this is something that will blow you away: By comparison there are more children diagnosed on the autism spectrum than there are children diagnosed with diabetes, aids, cancer, CP, Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy or Downs Syndrome combined.

Oregon has the second highest diagnosed rate in the nation and Lane County is one of the highest county’s with Autism rates in Oregon if not the highest.

One in every 88 people in this country live with Autism Spectrum Disorder, yep, people you know have it and you don’t even know it. In fact, you might be on the spectrum and have no clue. Most in the industry believe the numbers are much higher than what we just reported.

autism_art_257_20080504100445You hear the term “Autism” and think of people who can’t look you in the eye or have trouble socially. It’s true those are some of the symptoms, however the spectrum is so deep and so wide experts have no idea how many people actually live in autisms shadow. Many go undiagnosed and live their lives feeling unaccepted, overlooked, made fun of and so on. It breaks my heart to think of all those people who really are normal; it’s just a different normal.

People learn to cope and some simply don’t have enough symptoms to be classified on the scale but find the world just marches to a different drummer and they feel off beat.

When someone in your life is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder everything is turned upside down. What was, changes and uncertainty becomes a constant companion. I have a lot of people in my life on the spectrum. The more I learn about the spectrum the more I see a few of those traits in myself.

autism-cityscapeWe see people on the street or in the workplace and label them odd or different and we write them off as this or that. But what if that person is actually smarter than you or me but just has trouble connecting some of our cultural dots because of Autism?

What would it be like to live in a world where you always have to think twice as hard to communicate with those around you? How difficult is it to be wired differently than the society you live in and find yourself unable to explain what you are feeling? Misunderstandings are routine, just part of your life.

WHATS THE POINT RICK?

I’m glad you asked. The point is tolerance and acceptance. Since the dominate culture gets to set the “normal standard” I guess what I’m asking is that dominates broaden their perspective.

Instead of looking at the guy who doesn’t fit in and writing him off as weird, open your mind, close your mouth and assume he or she communicates differently than what is normal to you.

autismadultInstead of looking at folks as troublemakers or difficult employees, find out what’s really going on and look at them as an asset still being discovered. Perhaps we can all put ourselves in someone else place and image what it would be like to live on a planet where everyone spoke a different language and expected you to act socially like them, but you weren’t like them.

Acceptance is a funny thing. Next time you see a child screaming in the grocery store rather than looking in disgust at his or her “terrible parent”, instead assume this may be one of those kids born on the Autistic Spectrum and give mom or dad a look of kindness not a look of pity or judgment.

If you really want to test yourself and have the balls to do so, try this. Imagine for a minute that it is you who are socially awkward and acceptable behavior eludes you and “acting normal” is an unreachable goal.

look_me_in_the_eye_by_greenrapsodyIf you truly do this you realize normal is overrated and not all that interesting and the thing that makes us human truly is our uniqueness and our differences.

Now, don’t just believe and say how nice: to truly make a difference we have to do more than “feel”differently we have to “act the change we seek to find” and that is where the real work comes in.

Side Note: To those put off by my use of the word “Normal” I am sorry. I’m a communicator first and in order to get my message across must speak in terms understandable to the dominant culture. If the word hangs you up ignore my behavior and assume my heart is in the right place. Yes, sometimes the way I put things is a little awkward for society.

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