Autism Awareness Month

Berry College faculty and students advocate the continued focus on special needs.

Madelin Ryan, Viking Fusion Reporter

As Autism Awareness Month comes to a close, Berry College faculty and students advocate the continued focus on special needs.

One in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This developmental disability is called a ‘spectrum disorder’ because each person diagnosed has different deficits, says Dr. Michelle Haney, Professor of Psychology.

“There are core deficits that we see in everyone with Autism–social issues, repetitive restrictive behaviors—but some have IQs of 130 some of 70, some are verbal some non-verbal,” Haney said. “So we call it a spectrum disorder because they’re all so different.”

There is a saying in the Autism Awareness community, ‘if you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.’ Each individual with Autism is just that, an individual.

Haney advocates for Autism Awareness to promote inclusivity and diversity.

“I want to see people included in society no matter what kind of disability or ethnicity or language or background they have. I want to live in a world that is inclusive,” Haney said.

In order to increase this inclusivity, Haney suggests Berry students reach out to those on campus with Autism that she says could benefit from people reaching out to them.

Junior Austin Drake advocates for Autism Awareness Month after growing up with a younger brother on the spectrum. He says his relationship with his brother is sometimes difficult because Brennan is non-verbal; however, the two remain close.

“It’s always funny because I’ll go home and for the first hour he will act like nothing’s different and then a little later I’ll just be sitting there and all of a sudden he will come up to me and hug me,” Drake said. “That’s really special because that doesn’t happen often. I feel like we’re pretty close, I love him a lot.”

Drake says it’s important for people to understand the strain of having a member with Autism puts on families.

“It’s definitely hard when I’ll go somewhere with my whole family and my brother will start stemming, which is self stimulatory behavior. He will make noises or flap his arms and people will give us weird looks and don’t really understand,” Drake said. “Having a month dedicated to awareness is really big and generates support for people with special needs and their families.”

Drake’s family has to buy special food for his brother because of dietary restrictions attached to his Autism. Additionally, the family provides occupational therapy to help with his development.

In his time at Berry, Drake has been vocal about the rights of those with special needs. He says that even the small ways people can raise awareness helps, including the Facebook profile picture filters.

Drake encourages others to seek to be understanding of those with developmental disabilities. He suggests treating them like everyone else.

“If you see someone with special needs, don’t constantly look over at them,” Drake said. “It puts an uncomfortable feeling on the family where you feel like you’re being observed.”

April is meant to raise awareness among the general population about Autism as well as police and emergency responders. Some children with autism have a tendency to run to water. If firefighters and first-responders are familiar with the characteristics of Autism, it can prevent accidents. Oftentimes, people with Autism end up in prisons after others become frightened by their behavior.

“The police give them a directive that they don’t follow so then they book them and end up in prison. We want to make sure that our police officers and public servants understand this population,” Haney said. “This way they can support them and not exasperate any problems.”

Many programs exist to aid the families of people with Autism. In every state, parents can seek out their closest public school, or, for free or low-cost testing in their home. 

Autism can now be diagnosed in children as early as six months old.

“The earlier we can diagnose a child with autism and get them effective intensive services the more we are able to mitigate the symptoms of autism so the more likely the child will have functional language, more appropriate behavior, they could be in an inclusive classroom, and seek employment and contribute to the tax base,” Haney said. “We can’t cure autism but we can minimize the deficits to the point there they don’t really seem disabled at all.”

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