EDITORIAL: Stop assuming ­— learn, embrace diversity

By Justin Colman

My name is Justin Colman. You may know me as a copy editor, a reporter or a peer.

To you, I am a normal young adult living a generic college life. That’s not entirely true. People who know me well, know my dream job is to work for Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to increasing autism awareness.

There’s a reason for this. If you have not guessed, it’s simple: I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

With the CDC’s newest report, which indicates one in 88 children will be diagnosed with autism, it is imperative that people understand what autism is, as there is more to it than people think. What I am about to say should not be taken as something objective, but rather, subjective, having worked with children with autism and have grown up on the spectrum.

People go out on a limb and say “autism” is a word that can be associated with “low intelligence.” The irony is thick, because they are simply wrong on word association and show their lack of intelligence.

Autism involves every part of the body. From the occipital lobe to the skin of one’s body, autism affects the person in many ways and it varies in each person.

While I have not had any issues with my eyes or skin, I worked with children with autism who  have had these problems. I’ve worked with children who could not stay in a lit room because it was too bright. I’ve worked with children who will not touch something because it doesn’t feel good on their hands. These are called sensory issues.

There is more to it, though. Autism is as much of a behavior (not attitude) issue as it is a physical issue. We all go through our days with some things planned. Some of us will wake up, take a shower, have breakfast and brush our teeth before leaving. If we wake up late and don’t have enough time to take a shower or have breakfast, so be it.

Now, let’s say someone with autism might have to watch television before having breakfast.

If the person successfully watches television, their day carries on with no problem. Let’s say though, the person wakes up late and his or her caregiver is in a rush to get him or her ready for school. Because they are running late, the caregiver tells the person he or she cannot watch television. The caregiver, in turn, is causing a disruption in what the person with autism considers a normal cycle. As a result, the person will get fussy and possibly throw a tantrum because the caregiver is making him or her do something out of order, which confuses them.

It’s important to know that the person with autism is not upset that the caregiver is making him or her skip television time. The person with autism is upset because he or she is confused, and unfamiliar with this new routine that makes him or her feel uncomfortable, and in turn, frustrates him or her.

You’ve probably seen a child, or even a teenager act out in some way because their parent, guardian, or caregiver did something that made the child or teen uncomfortable, and as a result, look different. That person is not anymore different than us.

It’s time for people to stop pointing out what’s different about a person and instead, embrace the diversity. If we lived in a world where everyone acted, talked and dressed the same way, it would be one pretty boring world.

As a member of the autism community, I believe that we are trying to add another aspect of diversity in this world.