One of the biggest modern day struggles in the realm of autism is being understood and accepted by others. Children with autism in today's world can experience upsetting challenges and face unnecessary and violating conflicts with school, the public, and the law, all because their autism was not readily understood.

Autism is a neurological disorder in which areas of a child's brain consist of overly developed areas and underly developed areas. It is a broad spectrum and has seemingly infinitely different levels and severities.

An example of the lower end of the spectrum, children with autism seem to live in a vacuum in which they are sucked into their own world, and they may seem oblivious to others or their surroundings. They may speak few words or are totally non verbal. Different colors, smells, touches, tastes or textures can become unpleasant, and maybe even unbearable. When children with severe autism try to communicate that something is wrong, they may spiral into a tantrum because they do not know how to communicate their feelings. They may be oblivious to dangerous situations, and may, for example, escape the house at night, or attempt to jump out of a car while it is in motion!

An example of the higher end of the spectrum, children with autism are more verbal, aware of their surroundings, and can better communicate with others, although they may experience many of the similar difficulties that simply come with autism. On top of that, they may want to make friends, but they lack inert cognitive and social skills, hence they are sometimes accused of being rude, undisciplined, or disrespectful.

There also exist many myths about autism. To name a couple, it is a myth that all children with autism are the same(they all flap their arms, they are all non-verbal, etc). This isn't true because, as addressed before, autism is a broad spectrum. It is also a myth that children with autism are incapable of love. In truth, children with autism long to be loved! It's simply a matter of them not knowing how to express their emotions, or they may have interests that get in the way. For example, when I was very young, my mother had a difficult time getting me to hug her, because I always seemed to be fascinated by everything else around me. However, because she emphasized intervention, I was finally able to let out the abounding love I had for her; I could hug her freely when I wanted to.

Today's world is often ignorant of the needs of children with autism. Here are a few examples of what a child with autism may encounter in those situations. They are situations I encountered first hand as a child with Asperger Syndrome—a form of high functioning autism:

I stood in a dark corner upstairs, just outside my Sunday School class. I had been told to sit outside for being disruptive and disrespectful. After moments, my teacher came out of the room to reprimand me. I remember feeling very ashamed. I regarded the glare in my teacher's eyes as he stood looming over me, pointing his finger down at me as he scolded me. His voice was quiet, but it seemed to boom. I was trying so hard not to cry, and at the same time trying to understand what I had done wrong...

A couple years later, I was riding my bicycle with some friends up and down the streets of our neighborhood. After I had been enjoying riding up and down the parking way of my house and a neighbor's, a man called out to me from his car, “Hey! Do you want me to come and take that bike from you and put it in my car!” Alarmed, I stopped my bike on the sidewalk and said, “No, thank you.” The man yelled at me angrily from his car telling me I needed to learn to be respectful. Afterward he drove off, whilst I was feeling lost. I went back to my friends and family. “Didn't you see that man trying to get through?” they asked me. “He was probably late for work! He was honking his horn at you!” My friends had all stopped to let the man pass, but they said I had been riding up and down the street heedless of him, preventing him from driving safely on. But I had no memory of this! All I remembered was riding up and down the street with my friends. I never saw the man trying to get through...

In second grade, my teacher had noticed how I loved to learn about human anatomy. Wanting to give me a special privilege, he allowed me to demonstrate a human body computer program to the school district. While the demonstration went well, my teacher later interviewed me on camera and asked me why he let me demonstrate the computer program—he had told me to improvise if I did not know the answer to a question prior to the interview. I answered saying, “my teacher didn't know much.” After the interview, my teacher looked at me with a stern face and asked me why on Earth I had said that. I hadn't meant any harm, but I was trying to understand what it was I had done wrong...

In any of these cases, it is important to understand that we with autism are not being irreverent of common-sense social skills; people with autism often envy the brain development for cognitive and social skills. They are not common sense to us. Because so few people seem to understand autism, I can understand why its easy for them to accuse those on the spectrum of being rude or disrespectful. For instance, a common problem that children with high-functioning autism have is having two-way communications. I, for instance, had this difficulty myself. I couldn't tell when others were trying to say something, and I would often interrupt them and continue talking about my own interests. Once again, this is not being selfish or rude: its a product of a neurological condition that prohibits us from having any idea of yielding to social skills. Neurotypicals are born knowing these social skills like common sense, but children with autism have to learn them the same way one learns reading, writing and arithmetic...

Having autism is sometimes different from being in a wheelchair, or being blind or deaf. This is because when people look at a child with autism, they seem to regard the child as “normal.” They can't see that anything seems to be “physically wrong” with them, and that their behavior is not connected with their autism. So few people understand autism in its entirety, so they do not know how to handle autism appropriately. Many people do not even know what autism is!

There are too many cases involving children with autism who are expelled from school or shunned from other public facilities because their condition isn't readily understood. Many teachers have mishandled cases with children with autism because they did not know about autism (or didn't spend their time doing research). Recently to the time of this writing, a particular kindergarten teacher had one of her students with autism voted out of her class! The students voted, and by a substantial majority he was voted out. When the teacher asked him how that made him feel, he responded "sad." In the days to follow, the boy was extremely upset. He would keep repeating "I'm not special."

Here's another story of a confrontation between special needs children and an educational institute that acted unproffesionally. A friend of mine was hired as a rehabilitation aide at a school just outside Edmonton, Alberta. After the school's original administration team was replaced, following her first year working there, she says “Thing's slowly began to change, and by the time I left it was to the point that I was almost embarrassed to admit I worked there.” A prominent example of what did change: a room was available to her and her students encase they needed a quiet place to work, and the administration team told her they were going to convert it into one of the Academic Challenge classrooms—their current classroom was too small. The problem: instead of making the old Academic Challenge classroom available to her and her students, they turned it into a staff lounge, one of which they already had. The administration used the excess money the school received to incorporate new furnitures, two computers, a TV, and another leisures. They continuously told my friend that there was no money to fund equipment and other items for her special needs students.

Later, after confronting many obstacles with the administration, my friend had been working with a special needs student. She brought this student to the vice principal's office for a quiet place to work. She had “tried every other option” before hand. The vice principal was at a meeting with the principal and teachers would often bring their students to his office to write exams. Therefore she presumed there would be no trouble. She regarded how her student was “frustrated, anxious, and on sensory overload” after having to go from one place to the next just to find a quiet place. When the vice principal discovered they had used his office, he reprimanded my friend and told her never to do so again. She asked the administration for another alternative—after having done so innumerable times—and she was told to bring her student into the janitor's supply closet, a room filled with chemicals. She was appalled by this alternative, particularly because the administration was serious about it.

Further cases consist of parents of children with autism who are falsely accused of child abuse. In this case, people see a mother trying to calm or discipline her child with autism, who appears to be screaming in agony and is out of control. Because they do not understand whats happening, they call the police. Another example of this case: a child with autism suffers inconsolable tantrums and sometimes hurts himself. A suspicious individual reports the mother to the authorities and another parent is falsely arrested because her child's neurological disorder was not understood.

Autism is perhaps the most misunderstood, or underly understood, neurological disorder in the modern day world. That can change, and it must change. Teachers, doctors, law enforcement, and people in general need to educate themselves until they are fluent in autism. The awareness of autism needs to continue to spread so those on the spectrum can win the acceptance, understanding, and love they deserve from their fellow human beings.

Be well.

Author's Bio: 

Loren John Presley is a young adult with Asperger Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. He is the head of a support group in his local area called "Unique Perspectives" for young adults with Asperger Syndrome, where he strives to give insight and aid. He has directed short films for teaching social and cognitive skills to young people with autism in the past. He is the author of a young reader's chapter book titled, The Anastasia Project, a fantasy tale about a dolphin, although it has routes in his real-life struggles through clinical depression and dealing with the negative aspects of his own autism.