The Stigma behind Autism
My cousin – who has always felt more like a younger brother to me – is autistic. He is 15 years old but you wouldn’t know it just by interacting with him. His name is Matthew Jordan Koutrakos and he is the most brilliant young man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and growing up with. He has taught me to appreciate and view life in a very different kind of way, a way that encourages you to take a minute to be in the present moment. He is compassionate, intelligent, an incredible artist and can recite the alphabet backwards at the drop of a coin – something I have always envied.
There have been multiple times we have been in public and Matthew will feel uncomfortable, whether it be loud noises or the excess of people in a public setting and he will have a moment. The reaction to these moments that children living with autism experience on a daily basis is what I want to shed light on. As much as we want to believe that society has become more aware of various disabilities, this is not always the case.
Those who know or live with someone who has autism will understand what I am referring to. Reactions vary from the annoyed stares of disapproval or sheer ignorance to the understanding and patient bystanders that will not worsen the condition of that moment. Children living with autism do not have particular identifiable facial characteristics; therefore those who are unaware of the social behaviours of these children may think that these moments are a result of bad parenting or a lack of control. The only way to de-stigmatize these attitudes towards the families and children living with autism is awareness, education and the willingness to change.
I want to leave you with a few things to consider the next time you come across an individual living with autism:
Do not judge a book by its cover
Do not make assumptions about what the person can and cannot do
Do not dismiss his or her talents and abilities
Children living with disabilities have an incredible capacity to learn just like any other child. Every individual has his or her own unique set of capabilities and instead of trying to make a square peg fit into a circle, alter the mold you are applying and make room for a new definition of what we call “normal”.