A life-long disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological and developmental difference. It impacts an individual’s ability to interact with others and how they learn. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is called a spectrum because it encompasses a variety of developmental disorders including Asperger’s syndrome. Children can be diagnosed with ASD as early as two or three years old and well into middle age. Diagnosis usually occurs when they don’t hit certain developmental milestones but those with milder forms of ASD might not be diagnosed until adulthood, like in many cases of Asperger’s syndrome or Level 1 ASD. Symptoms cover two general groups; difficulties with social communication (lack of consistent eye contact, slow to respond to verbal attempts to gain attention, conversational difficulties) and repetitive behaviors (repeating words/phrases, becoming overly focused on certain subjects, sensitivity to sensory input). Sleep problems and mood irritability are also often implicated in ASD.
Why is there a stigma surrounding ASD?
Autism Spectrum Disorders carry a lot of stigma which has often led parents and families to keep their children from getting a diagnosis or the treatment they might need. Families face stigma and isolation everyday when it comes to autism, usually due to misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge regarding the disorder. People used to believe that one of the causes of ASD was poor parenting. This finding was disproved and research shows that the causes are much more complicated due to a combination of genetic and developmental differences. Differences in neurology and brain circuitry, causing many of those with ASD to also experience gastrointestinal disorders, epilepsy and sleep disorders.
Many families and parents of children with ASD face this stigma head on by explaining the disorder to others and by explaining that their child’s brain works differently. Increasing awareness and acceptance does wonders for the children who are living with it every day. The earlier that people with ASD are diagnosed and treated, the sooner they can get therapy and develop coping skills and prevent mental health illness.
Together, we are a movement. Our movement explains what it really means to experience autism and mental illness together.
78% of autistic children will have one or more mental health conditions. Mental Health conditions are often treatable and preventable. Our organization’s movement shows autistic people experiencing mental illness that they are not alone and there is hope. While it’s a slow process, our movement is becoming louder and more persistent every time a celebrity or politician speaks out, an article is published or an individual shares their personal story. Our movement is growing, strengthening and becoming more visible.
We need to keep this momentum going. The harder we work, the more people will learn, understand and empathize. The societal perception of mental illness and how it affects autistic people won’t change if we don’t work to change it. So, here are just a few ways we can continue to push our cause forward:
Start conversations with autistic people and parents to reduce mental illness-related stigma, we need to feel comfortable having conversations about it. The more we talk about autism and the co-occurring mental health conditions, the more normalized it becomes. Starting the conversation with your friends and family is the first step.
Correct stigmatizing language. Language surrounding autism and mental health illness will never evolve unless people realize their words are hurtful. Joking about someone acting autistic or calling someone “insane” or “crazy,” and defining a person by their condition or using mental health adjectives are all harmful habits that perpetuate stigma. If you hear someone using stigmatizing language, kindly let them know it bothers you.
Share your story with people close to you. Sharing mental health struggles helps spread the word that mental illness is real.
Autistic people need equal access to treatment when they suffer from mental health illness, just like any other person, yet for some reason these symptoms tend to be ignored. Recovery stories help other autistic people by spreading the word that if you’re autistic and you live with a mental illness, you can get better.
One of the best ways to spread awareness is through writing.
Circulating #AutisticWellness #MentalHealthAwareness #Autism articles all over social media and the Internet; they will be seen by thousands, even millions, of people. If you have something to say or a piece of advice, be kind, and don’t hesitate to share your wisdom with the world-wide web.
Represent this cause. There are many ways to show that mental health awareness for autistic people is an important cause to you, but it’s even more powerful to make that dedication visible.
Consider buying the #AutisticWellness bumper-sticker that represents autistic people and the highs and lows of mental health. Janelle Meredith created this bumper-sticker to let everyone know: “We're in this together, so don't walk through your toughest day alone.” If you catch someone eyeing your bumper-sticker, tell them what it stands for.
Educate Teach people about mental illness and autism by becoming an Autistic “In Our Own Voice” presenter for the Autism Wellness Foundation or by teaching the “Ending Stigmas for Autistic Communities” to a group of young people. Be the one who teaches someone struggling that what they’re going through isn’t their fault and how they can get help.
Advocate within your current mental health system, not everyone is getting the services and treatment they need. When you see an opportunity to influence your local government about mental health legislation fro autistic people, call, email or tweet at them to let them know the importance of mental health care.
Volunteer for the Autism Wellness Foundation. Its the best way to help and there are many ways to get involved—volunteer for an information line or crisis line, walk or volunteer at your local chapter, join the Wellness Hub—it’s up to you how you can support the movement.
End stigma advocate for mental health reform, and build better lives for autistic people affected by mental illness. are the reasons why our movement is growing stronger every day. We appreciate your support and everything you do to make our cause visible #AutisticWellness