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Column: Autism certainly makes life harder – but diversity also makes societies flourish

This year, why not make a point of learning about autism? Look at people’s abilities instead of their disabilities, writes Adam Harris.

Adam Harris

NORMAL IS A strange word we use to define many human beings. As a word, it defines something which is “usual, typical or expected” and yet I have never met a human being who is “typical” – isn’t the whole idea that we are all extraordinary on the pure and simple basis that no two human beings are the same? Does anyone purely have “typical” interests, behaviours, challenges or abilities? Does anyone ever behave so as “expected” that we can predict every aspect of interaction with that person? I think you will agree that the answer to all of these questions is certainly NO … yet as human we crave normality.

As an autism advocate, and someone who is living with Asperger Syndrome, I travel the country speaking about the condition and working, through my newly-launched charity AsIAm.ie, to foster a greater sense of awareness of the issues affecting people with autism and also to change the perception of the condition from one that focuses on individuals not labels, and on abilities not disabilities. The most frequent question I come across is “Should I tell people I have autism?” or “Should I tell people my child has autism?”. This is frequently followed up with stories of how those with the “invisible condition” are often branded as “strange” or “different” or how a parent of a child with autism feels they are judged by others because of the challenging behaviours of their child, often hearing the faint whispers of “She should teach that child some manners” or “There is something wrong there” as they go about their day-to-day business.

Diversity makes societies flourish

As a proud “aspie” and someone who has met people and families affected by autism, to varying degrees and different ways, I won’t for a second write that autism is “normal” – it isn’t! It brings great challenges in terms of social communication, interaction and imagination, it heightens the senses and makes dealing with many environments and settings near impossible and it often means learning or going about day-to-day life in a different way to your peers. The irony perhaps being the rational and rote behaviour of many of us on the spectrum is a whole lot more “normal” by neurotypical standards than the often irrational, brash behaviour those not on the spectrum carry out each day.

Diversity makes societies flourish, it brings creativity, innovation and makes our society an interesting place to be. Autism certainly makes life harder for those of us with autism – be it in socialising with others, coping in the classroom, finding a job or dealing with anxiety. The last thing the autism community needs is a society which puts such emphasis on “normality” and is so obsessed with language like “wrong”, “can’t” and “disability”. I meet too many people every day who try and change who they are when the message we must send as a society is – ‘we value who you are’.

This year, make a point of learning about autism, visit AsIAm.ie and get an insight to life with the condition, organise an autism talk in your community to increase awareness, look at people’s abilities and focus on where we can support each other. Then reap the benefits of an inclusive, innovative and diverse school, workplace, organisation and society.

Adam Harris is the 19 year old Founder-Director of the new Autism charity, AsIAm.ie . Adam founded AsIAm.ie based on his experiences as a young person living with Aspergers Syndrome. 

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Read: Autism begins during pregnancy, says new US study

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Adam Harris

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