By Tony Ogunlowo
The theme for World Autism Week 2023 is colour: the powers that be want to promote autism awareness with a splash of colours. As usual, the autism activists will be out there in force on sponsored walks, raising money, and doing talks trying to educate the general public on autism.
I believe those on the autistic spectrum really don’t care about an awareness week devoted to trying to understand what they are: most would prefer to be given a fair chance to live in a world that rejects them and treats them like circus freaks.
Perhaps more time should be spent on educating the ordinary man on the street about what autism really is like and how those affected by it try to live their lives.
Autistic people are no different to anybody else except their brains are wired differently: same human beings but a different way of thinking and living. The common belief that all autistic people are non-verbal retards is not exactly true, some will be but not all, and in the same way not all ‘normal’ people are clever and can boast of high IQs.
The mere fact you’ve met one autistic person doesn’t mean you’ve met them all. Don’t stereotype! People like Elon Musk, bullied as a kid in South Africa because he was autistic and weird (- he still is weird!) is on-and-off the World’s Richest Man following in the footsteps of people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, all rumoured to be on the spectrum, who are using their unique talents and abilities to re-shape the world we live in. Recently Jason Arday an autistic 37-year-old Black Briton became the youngest Black professor at Cambridge University: he didn’t utter a word until he was 11 and didn’t learn to read or write until he was 18.
A few years down the road and he worked hard and quickly got a first degree, 2 Master’s degrees and finally his PhD in Educational Studies. Not bad for an autistic ‘retard’!
The mere fact somebody is slightly different to everybody else, perhaps a bit antisocial and weird is not an excuse to discriminate against or ostracise a person.
Discrimination is a big crime in the world today: we prosecute people for discriminating against others because of their race, sexual and religious orientation and cultural differences. But sadly, people who have autism and other mental health conditions seem to be exempt from this rule. For some strange reason, it’s ‘O.K’ to bully, harass, ridicule, alienate and ostracise people who have mental health conditions.
Nobody has any control over what they are born as, it’s a Lottery of Life: if you were born ‘O.K’ you’re lucky, if not you’re stuck with whatever you are born as for the rest of your natural life. Think about that next time when you’re ridiculing somebody who’s on the autistic spectrum or who has mental health issues.
So Autistic Awareness week, in my opinion, should be dedicated to not just learning more about the condition – or making a song and dance about it – but to showing how people live with a condition that imposes certain limitations on how they live their lives: limitations the average person would find impossible to live with.
Simple things like going to a shopping mall, or attending social functions can cause a sensory overload or even going outside of their own front doors can be difficult for most people on the spectrum and that’s not to talk of being hyper-sensitive to common things such as noise, bright lights, smells or even certain foods and at the same time being prone to meltdowns, struggling with depression, loneliness (-often leading to suicidal intentions), while at the same time being de-humanised by everybody around them.
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