Autism Awareness Month should focus on advocacy, activities

The SMC was lit up blue for Autism Awareness Month. (Julia Snyder/The Snapper)

Nickolas Hughes

Opinion Editor

“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.” This is according to Autism Speaks, which is an organization that advocates for individuals with autism. I want to point out the last part of that definition. Unique strengths and differences is what I live by. I am on the autistic spectrum. Before the diagnosis was changed to just the umbrella term of autism, I had Asperger’s syndrome. Which is one of the many forms of autism.

With my version of autism, I struggle with social skills and general interaction with people. I have many repetitive behaviors; I memorized all eight Star Wars movie scripts to give you an idea. I also am an advocate for myself and I hope to be an advocate for others with autism. I struggle daily, but I persevere and I lead a productive life while I am autistic.

April is autism awareness month. I celebrated this by initiating the atrium and clocktower at the student memorial center to be blue to show awareness by Millersville. If you were wondering why they were like that, there is your answer. Now, while awareness is great I want more. I want to do more with autism action. Stuff like autism walks, working with people on the spectrum, and many other things.

My head is full of ideas of what I could do to help. I want to get Millersville University to have an advocacy event for all people suffering from mental illness. I want to get an event to happen that promotes the thought that people with disabilities are different not less. That is a lot of “I want” though. I am going to go with one last one though. I want the whole year to be autism awareness based. What I mean by this is that I want to promote awareness for more than just one month out of the year. I want it to be on people’s minds all the time.

The thought that we only need to be aware one month seems odd to me. I am aware of it all the time and I have met people who are aware of it all the time. They are directly affected by it though. Either the person has autism themselves or they know someone with autism.

I have been writing about autism as long as I have been a journalist. I started when I was at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) with their newspaper, Live Wire. I even won an award for one of my articles about myself and having autism while I was there. When I got to Millersville, I joined the Snapper and got the Opinion editor position and I thought that it would be an amazing platform for me to spread my message. I would like to think that I have done a good job with this privilege.

With the ability to write and be published I am able to spread my message, like I stated above, but I want to do more with it. I want to challenge my readers and other clubs even to do something. I want you to be inclusive and be accepting. I want you to be aware of mental illness and not mock it. Do not use the r-word, autistic, or any other mental health thing as a derogatory slur. Do not spread the misconception that having any of these things is a bad thing.

We are differently able, not less. I see that slogan a lot on Facebook and it means a great deal to me that people understand this. Having a disability have forged me into a person I can be proud to be. I would rather not have it, but I live with having autism and I believe that I have thrived with it. It would be great it all people with autism felt like I do, but I do not think that is the case. I know, before therapy, I was always scared of people and I did not want to talk to anyone.

In High school I was embarrassed that I had autism; it was not something that I readily shared with anyone. I felt it made me less human and I was worth less than other people. It felt like a curse that I couldn’t get out of. Then, out of nowhere, I stumbled across Temple Grandin. I was watching the Ted talks in my senior year of high school. It was 2010. Grandin spoke and it changed me. The Ted talk in question was the World needs all kinds of minds. It changed me drastically. My entire outlook on autism and how I could deal with it.

This one speech was the catalyst that broke the shell that I had put around myself. It broke me of my shyness and I was a lot more open about myself and I quit lying to myself. In my freshman year through junior I was hospitalized five times. The third time I found out I had autism. I thought I was a freak, I could not have been more wrong. I have done so much with my life so far and I think I can do so much more.

So, remember this, it may suck having autism, but do not let that stop you. Do not let any mental illness stop you. Let yourself thrive from it. Be the best you can be and you will have nothing to be ashamed of.

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