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Max Granitz
BY Max Granitz

Embracing the Spectrum: Recognizing Individual Narratives

Embracing the Spectrum: Recognizing Individual Narratives


Autism first hit the world of psychology in 1938 when Hans Asperger presented his ideas on psychological behavioral disorders in children to a lecture at Vienna University. Since then, it has become one of the most-oft-studied areas in modern psychology/psychiatry. It is estimated by the CDC that 1 out of every 68 children in the United States, or 14.7 per 1,000 are somewhere on the spectrum.

“Beware: ‘Special’ Kid Lives on this Block”

But with the metaphorical popularization of autism-related topics, a dangerous concept has come into play. It is the idea that all experiences with any form of autism are the same. Popular culture has both done good and damage… it has increased awareness about the issues that people on the spectrum face, yet, often mocks or portrays them as caricatures. Episodes of animated sitcoms like “Family Guy” and “South Park” have poked fun at people with disabilities many times, not just autism.

This idea of people with autism has leaked into all aspects of society. In education, children with autism, even those with less severe symptoms, are shunted off to far-away corners of the school to keep them away from neurotypical children. They are given less priority in high schools when it comes to career planning and preparing for college. In the United States, there are still technicalities on the books from laws passed under FDR’s “New Deal” in the 1930’s, that allow companies to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage, with no legal repercussions.

“Dual Diagnosis”

This homogenized, general narrative has led to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts in children and teens on the spectrum. In January 2013, Susan Dickerson Mayes, a Professor of Psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania published a paper on suicidal ideation in children with autism:

Percent of children with autism for whom suicide ideation or attempts was rated as sometimes to very often a problem by mothers (14%) was 28 times greater than that for typical children (0.5%) but less than for depressed children (43%). For children with autism, four demographic variables (age 10 or older, Black or Hispanic, lower SES, and male) were significant risk factors of suicide ideation or attempts. The majority of children (71%) who had all four demographic risk factors had ideation or attempts. Comorbid psychological problems most highly predictive of ideation or attempts were depression, behavior problems, and teased. Almost half of children with these problems had suicide ideation or attempts. All children with autism should be screened for suicide ideation or attempts because ideation and attempts in autism are significantly higher than the norm and are present across the spectrum. This is especially important for children who have the demographic and comorbid risk factors, many of which can be targeted for intervention to reduce and prevent suicide ideation and attempts,” Science Direct.

A New Narrative

With all they see of themselves in media, and how they are treated by society, people on the spectrum can feel as if they are outcasts. That is why there are campaigns by the Interactive Autism Network and in the New York City borough of Queens to combat the stigma around autism, especially in immigrant and lower-income communities.

This video is just one example of why people with autism are deserving of the same treatment as a neurotypical person. They possess the same desire for acceptance, the same need for a fulfilling life, and the same capacity to learn. And yes, they, like this man, can do incredible things.

The idea of a spectrum is to “classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points.” By that logic, autism can manifest in varying ways. There is no one universal experience. Collectively, as a society, we need to remove the idea that all experiences are the same, and begin to recognize individual narratives. Only then will people with autism realize they too deserve happiness and satisfaction.


Related posts:

5 Tips for Finding Employment for College Students on the Spectrum | 5 Books on Autism That Bring Hope, Practical Help & Happier DaysSpotlight: 10 Colleges with Programs for ASD Students | 36 Autism Facebook Pages You Should Like!


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Embracing the Spectrum: Recognizing Individual Narratives

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Max Granitz

Written on August 16, 2016 by:

Max is a 20-year-old college student who just so happens to have Asperger's Syndrome. He will be a junior at Grand Valley State University in the fall, where he is working towards a Bachelor's in Writing. He is an intern at the Friendship Circle of Michigan, and has been a part of the organization since 2004. Aside from writing, his interests include reading, the performing arts, and history.

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