April is Autism Awareness Month, but don’t define people by their diagnosis


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April is Autism Awareness Month, but what people on the spectrum seek is more than awareness, it’s acceptance. They are not their diagnosis.

Autism is talked about more now than ever before. Many students know at least one person in their life who is on the autism spectrum. Those people may even be sitting next to you in class.

In 2000, one in 150 people were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In 2014, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in 59 people were diagnosed. It has become a more common diagnosis.

The University of Connecticut offers services for those on the autism spectrum. The Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) said that accommodations can be made for students on a case-by-case basis, through an application process.

“Depending on the nature and functional limitations of a student’s documented disability, they may be eligible for academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids and services (referred to as accommodations),” Center For Students With Disabilities says on their website.

In most cases, it is difficult to know if someone is on the autism spectrum, as it is not a physical disorder. Autism also does not necessarily affect personality or learning ability, and when it does, there are techniques those people can utilize in their education, according to understood.org.

A diagnosis does not define a person because they do not want to be “the person with autism,” they just want to be a person. The stigma behind the autism spectrum is prevalent. Some people still treat people on the spectrum like they are aliens walking the earth. They may be different but these people are still people who want to be respected as well.

On March 25, 2000, Ethan Appleby, my brother, was born and diagnosed with autism.

My brother’s development was normal at first. One day, his development started reversing.

Though my parents never held him back from doing things we all enjoyed, there were times our family had to figure out how to handle unique situations because it’s harder for him to understand social cues and what is appropriate.

My boyfriend, Gianni Gardner, a student at Western Connecticut State University, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, as a young child. He has functioning relationships, both platonically and romantically, but has not always had an easy time with his peers.

While he does have occasional confusion with social cues, that is not his biggest concern. He is more concerned with how people will treat him when he shares his diagnosis.

People on the autistic spectrum don’t just want to be heard by you, they know you’re aware of their existence. These people also want you to realize that they are not as different as you might think and to consider getting to know them before making assumptions about their diagnosis.

People can be more respectful by asking questions about what being autistic means to them and how it affects their life. Asking questions instead of assuming things is a good way to make people on the autistic spectrum feel like you’re trying to understand a part of them without being demeaning. A person on the spectrum will appreciate when you treat them the same way you treat others rather than talking down to them.

Madison Appleby is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at madison.appleby@uconn.edu.

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