Discrimination Against Autism

Does Discrimination Against Autism Exist?

Rare is the case of discrimination against autism that there were no news articles to be found on the subject online. Either the cases are unheard of because people aren’t talking about it when it happens, or they settle outside of court before the discrimination gets to the media. Whichever way the wind blows, it seems that discriminatory cases against children and adults with autism do not, presently, exist.

It’s quite possible that discrimination can and does occur. There are still five times as many people out there who don’t know and don’t understand what autism is, and are fearful of it when they see it. They are the same people who are also afraid of people with mental retardation, Down’s syndrome, and any other disability. It is up to the educated classes to understand that discrimination is about fear, and fear controls human action, reaction and interaction more than any other emotion.

Understanding that fear is what drives individuals to act in discriminatory ways, when you do see it happening to your autistic child or adult relative, there are several ways to deal with it.

1. Deal with it directly. Let that person know their behavior is offensive and rude. Also let them know that if they have any questions regarding the disability that they are free to ask. Be calm, polite, and assertive. You are the community advocate for autism.

2. Ignore it. Not the best idea in the world sometimes but if you get the vibe that this person is only going to escalate the matter into a major fight, walk away.

3. Ask them if they need help understanding what the problem is. Nothing unnerves them more than being asked, politely and camouflaged, if they are fearful and/or ignorant. Their attitude is likely to change in a hurry.

4. If it escalates or repeats, and is very obvious or threatening, legal action may be your only option. Nobody likes to get the courts involved, but if someone is just that obvious about their discrimination or prejudice, they need a lesson in behavior modification.

People are generally more agreeable once you explain to them that your child or relative has autism. You don’t have to and shouldn’t have to disclose something so personal, but if you’re twelve year old looks like he’s going to try and bite the salesclerk because the item he wants isn’t in the store, a quick explanation with an apology turns things around in a hurry. In fact, people are sometimes MORE helpful if they know that there is a reason someone is acting in an unusual manner.

In one instance, when a child with autism insisted that he saw a certain toy at a specific store, the mother took him to look for it. When it couldn’t be found, the mother did what most mothers do; she asked a salesgirl to find it. When the salesgirl and two other clerks couldn’t find it, the child with autism began to have a meltdown. The salesgirl started to apologize heavily, but the mother explained her son’s condition to the salesgirl. “Ohhh,” started the salesgirl, “okay. I have a cousin with autism too. I get it now.” The mother walked out knowing they had done what they could to find the toy the boy was fixated on and that the person looking for it, well, her life was touched in some way by autism too. The prevalence of the disorder was such that the salesgirl knew and understood when the mother explained, and more compassionate feelings were applied. It’s just generally accepted, and therefore not much discrimination exists.

“Updated on 08/23/2013

Recently  in the news, an Ontario, Canada woman had the nerve to write a most despicable letter to her neighbor in regards to the neighbor’s grandson.  It has gone viral around the world, and is quite the shameful piece.  The hate-filled woman had the audacity to tell her neighbor that the behaviors her grandson exhibited were disgusting displays and that the boy should be put to sleep like a rabid wild animal.

Any mother or grandmother would be mortified as it is, but what makes this letter so particularly heinous is the fact that the boy has autism.  He is non-verbal and only exhibits loud vocalizations that can sometimes frighten people who may not fully understand autism or even know what it is.  Rather than have a polite, neighborly conversation with the grandmother and uncover the reason behind the boy’s odd behaviors, the neighbor chose to write a very seething and discriminatory letter to her instead.

Like most people who exhibit discrimination, this woman chose a very cowardly way to express it.  She obviously couldn’t bring herself to knock on the grandmother’s door, because, of course, that would mean taking a more polite and less hostile tone.  The woman claims that her “normal” children were being terrified by what they saw and heard, yet the woman didn’t even bother to explain to her children that there was nothing to be afraid of, because she herself was afraid of that which she obviously knew nothing about.

No doubt this letter and incident will be infamous to infinity as a prime example that 1) autism awareness has not been publicized enough, and 2) discrimination against anyone with special needs still exists in the world.  This woman’s assumptions that the boy was “retarded” and “no woman will ever want to marry him” and he “will never amount to anything” blatantly shows how little she knows about autism and that it doesn’t necessarily and automatically equal retardation, nor does it mean that children with autism can’t have normal and fulfilling lives.  It is a truly sickening display of cowardice, and an example of how one person didn’t dare change her own perceptions, much less those of the three children she claims to be raising.

It just goes to show that we all have a lot more work to do to make people aware that autism isn’t a bad thing or that something’s wrong with our children.  We have to show others how right our children and how unique they really are.