Today is World Autism Awareness Day, and the month of April is Autism Awareness Month. Unless you have someone on the autism spectrum in your family or among your friends, it can sometimes be difficult to understand and know how to approach a person with autism. The diagnosis is often associated only with its difficulties and challenges, which can discourage and prevent neurotypical individuals from getting to know autistic people and developing relationships with them. Because they think differently and often struggle with social awkwardness, it can be easier to avoid trying to get to know them and develop friendships with them.
The truth is, most autistic individuals are loving, funny, and smart and make wonderful friends and companions. Once you get to know them, you will find them to be honest and straightforward and they are loyal and trustworthy friends. Behind the social difficulties are often caring, intelligent individuals who desire friendship and love as much as you do, and who enjoy some of the same things you do. The Autism Site posted a great article recently highlighting the strengths and gifts of people on the spectrum.
When our daughter was in second grade, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a diagnosis which is was removed from the DSM in May 2013, and now falls under the broad category of autism spectrum disorders. The signs had been there since her first few years, when she often failed to make eye contact and her verbal development was slightly delayed. Although this diagnosis, along with her diagnosis of ADHD, has presented us with challenges, we wouldn’t change one thing about our beautiful, precious daughter. She is sweet and warm-hearted, intelligent, and can be delightfully witty. Our lives have been blessed and enriched by her caring presence. She has many kind and loving friends, whose friendship she cherishes and values.
Thankfully, people are beginning to understand autism more fully and to realize that these individuals, with their unique abilities and gifts, are valuable assets to society and in the workplace. A recent article in Fortune magazine discusses how tech companies and other employers are realizing their tendency to be very detail-oriented and focused and are utilizing these skills to increase productivity. There are some companies in our city who are beginning to hire young people with these diagnoses to work entry-level jobs with supervised training. There is still much progress to be made, since many autistic individuals remain unemployed, but the tide seems to be turning towards recognizing their strengths and embracing their differences.
Fr. Matthew P. Schneider is a priest with the Legionaries of Christ, ordained in 2013, who was diagnosed as an adult with autism. He revealed his diagnosis via social media today, April 2, 2019, on World Autism Awareness Day in order, first, to evangelize the autistic population. Fr. Schneider says that individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to be atheists and to not practice their religion. Secondly, Fr. Schneider says he values transparency and wants to be open and honest about his diagnosis. He wants people to understand the diagnosis and be more accepting of it.
Following Fr. Schneider’s example, we need more openness and transparency about autism and both its challenges and the positive traits and characteristics of those who have the diagnosis. Autistic people can contribute so much to our communities if given the chance. We need to value their unique skills and abilities and welcome them socially and into the workforce. We can learn so much from them, especially the lessons of love and acceptance of those who are different.