Autism, Culture, and Representation

When already immersed in the world of autism, it is easy to forget how little others might know about what autism is. I attended an Autism 101 seminar at EMU’s Autism Collaborative Center to not only learn more about how the center and its philosophy, but to also see how they introduced autism to the outside world. This was both a volunteer orientation and an information session for community members, so I was curious to see how the center would cover the wide range of relevant information about autism.

The ACC had a well-rounded mission, describing the accessibility of care as well as the nature of the support provided through assessments and referrals. One thing that particularly stood out to me was their belief that “all persons with ASD can lead fulfilling lives as independently as possible within their communities.” I was impressed that this belief was emphasized, and reassured to hear them talk about coping with autism rather than curing it. Many of the mysteries and controversies of autism were touched upon, including the historical concept of “refrigerator moms” and the uncertainty about causes, the lack of a cure, etc.  Prominent figures in the world of autism such as Temple Grandin and Sue Ruebin also arose in conversation.

The EMU ACC stated that they use the first-person term “person with autism” as opposed to “autist” or “autistic person.” Based on their philosophy, I would have expected them to use the term “autistic person.” The ACC seemed like the kind of place that emphasizes how autism is a part of a person’s identity, so I assumed that the term “autistic person” would have been preferred. Their use of the phrase “person with autism” draws attention to the fact that a person is a person first and an autistic person second. I think that it’s very interesting how such a subtle difference in terminology have much deeper meanings.

I was surprised by how much of the information covered was not new to me, and it just reminded me of how much I learned last semester. At the same time, while the info session provided me with a great general background, I still did not feel as though I was entirely prepared to work with autistic children. I think it could have been helpful if they had spent more time covering interactions with austistic people. I am hoping to observe some therapy methods offered at the ACC and to continue to learn more about the center. It seems like a really great place doing truly wonderful things, and I can’t wait to work with them more in the future!


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