Autism Being Stigmatized

With it being Mental Health Awareness Month nationally,  my day program for their weekly newsletter we were asked to give our opinion on the changes of stigma. While it has good and bad points, the autism community has its points also.
I have came across several disturbing points of misconception of Autism.

1. Family Guy mocking an autistic being unable to verbally communicate.

I’ve been a Family Guy fan since the first season almost twenty years ago and I do admit they push the boundaries alot of the time. It’s been a hotbed of debate. They were off a few years after season 3 but returned years later. The line continued to be pushed and I know if you don’t like it don’t watch it. That is a belief that I value dearly. However, when autistics are generalized, it hurts.

I recently came across a Facebook Watch video of dark special needs jokes of Family Guy. I thought I would have an look as Peter has memory clips he says that he was scared like the time he Sat next to the autistic person in the doctors office. The clip shows the autistic vocally stimming.

He was scared. I was done.

I admit I get scared sometimes about autistics that stim loudly or how to interact with them. I know that they can’t hurt me and they just want to get their point across just as much as I do. However, when you generalize the autistic community in those few seconds, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I know, I knew what I was getting into, but it just is a gross misrepresentation of the community. I do recall an early episode where his doctor diagnoses him as the R word, now a word no longer used (thank God) Nonetheless, it’s appalling because there so ones that are classified as such and are amazing people, regardless of their ability. Which moves us into the next misconception.

2. Being known as the R word or Developentally Disabled.

The R word is one I absolutely can’t stand. Prior to 2008 it was known as that. Those given that classification and some still live and endured the agony of being called it, being diagnosed it. Until a few decades ago the media used it like a household name, its just wrong and when I hear that word. It makes me ill.

Autism is a neurological condition, not specifically a physical or mental disability. Nonetheless, it’s classified in the DSM under the Developental disorders. Yes it can be coupled with other Developmental disabilities, but with the coupling as one Autism spectrum disorder, it’s misconceived as a development defect, which is not true for all autistics.A spectrum is just that. It’s a wide variety of symptoms and flaws. Myself I am proud of my Aspergers and fortunate enough to have the ability to inherit the diagnosis, the new diagnosis does a huge disservice to autistics that could have been diagnosed with Aspergers after it was coupled. Yes he was discounted for his works and beliefs and other information, it opened a door to a community for twenty years that made us feel better. We are not inferior to levels of ability, however we have a multitude of issues some similar and some not to the autistic community as a whole. It just doesn’t make sense. 

In many U.S. States and territories funding streams for autism are placed under the Developentally Disability arm of human services, again another disservice to the autism community because I personally feel with those of all ages receiving diagnoses services will grow and need to be more centralized. We shouldn’t be looked as less than others in any case we should be valued members of the community.

3. The belief that all autistics are heterosexual.

Recently, I read a blog from a prominent autistic that stated that one of the nations leading autism advocacy groups vehemently denies that 70% of autistics are not heterosexual. Now I know this will spark debate but I think it has to be acknowledged. Its the reason why many autistics debate and sometimes protest against the prominent advocacy organizations. It’s not sunshine and rainbows (for them), it’s not the picture they want to portray the picture perfect autistic. Until just this year, one of the largest organizations accepted that autistics don’t grow out of it and started to feature adults in campaigns. They are believers in ABA (think what you want) which has it’s pros and cons. 

You simply can’t be forced to identify yourself as something you hate being or trying to block something you really like because you are brainwashed to think one way but you absolutely feel the polar opposite. If we give autistics and others the freedom who they want to be, they should be allowed to so while being educated properly and in their terms what is appropriate and what isn’t. Sexual education, while essentially non existent in the special education realm needs to be taught or.advocated for,.again in their terms they they can understand..They have rights we should honor their wishes. Yes it has a great deal of issues but there’s helps and resources there.

4. The Tik Tok Autistic Challenge

Yesterday I saw a autistic professional speaker highlight this and I’m appalled.He shares my sentiment that it seriously sends the wrong message to youth that it’s ok for mocking the autistic community. We are autistics that are valued members of the community not to be mocked on the latest social media marketing strategy. It needs to stop and moderation must be taken to the fullest extent permitted. 

Autism Acceptance Month Day #14 – Bullying is a public school crisis that has been occuring for decades. Physical and Mental

In the second half of the subsubseries,we take a look into the realm of bullying. Yesterday we looked at it in the form of advances in technology. Today, we look at the physical and mental bullying aspects.

As I begun yesterday’s post of bullying being portrayed in film. We also covered in the realm of Cyberbullying. However there is still a lot of physical and mental bullying occuring in not only schools but by adults alike. We’ll explore the adulthood bullying tomorrow.

We are ever made aware of bullying nowadays because of the previlance of surveillance cameras, cell phones and social media. While the eyes aren’t everywhere, it’s usage of technology makes it easier to make it public. Reasons for bullying can be complicated and cumbersome. The instigator may have a rough home life of lifestyle, as can the victim. A critical part of what can be an irritant in individuals on the spectrum is the simple fact that things are black and white, taken literally so to speak.

A flash back of this occurred to me recently. My family frequently dines out at an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood. It is a family owned business, of which their son is employed as a waiter. We have had several instances of him being our waiter. One of the occurrences, when we were making conversation when he came back to check on our meals. He said something I took serious. He then said you can’t ever take a joke. It brought back some memories of not only my junior high years z but my senior high years as well. It also brought forth the instances of where I answered questions posed to me truthfully, however they weren’t intended to be a so.

One familiar instance I recall was the point where I was asked the size of my genitals. I would honestly answer with the correct length and then be kicked in the leg. There were several situations where I was depantsed, hit, kicked, abused shoved in a locker and even robbed of my lunch money, all through no fault of my own. Nonetheless by the time I graduated from high school many of those instigators took responsibility for their actions and we ended the last two years of high school associating frequently.

I have seen some of my former peers after graduation and some I am even friends with on Facebook. However, there are some that have been incarcerated, some deceased and others that are constantly in the local media for one thing or another. Some sadly have completed a suicide and some have moved away.

Nonetheless I know I have overcome those days and look forward to the ones to come. I like myself for who and what I am, not what someone defines me. There’s a saying that goes I define Autism, it doesn’t define me.

Starting next week we’ll be discussing independence and the success and needs of that realm. Tomorrow will bring forth the issues of abuse, neglect and grooming of individuals on the spectrum.

My stay at the Hiram G. Andrews Center was a Success, there are others, don’t rule out recent incidents

Recently, the Johnstown TV Station aired a story about the recent police activity at the Hiram G. Andrews Center there, It outlined that there were three incidents there in recent weeks including a bout where four students that broke into the old Westmont-Hilltop Elementary school and vandalized the interior, a instance where security was in search of illegal drugs and found a gun and mass quantities of ammunition, and yet another incident where a student had a episode and assaulted a center security guard and center staff member. Nonetheless, in all three incidences, the local police Department of Upper Yoder Township was dispatched to respond.

Being out of the school for almost thirteen years, I can honestly say we too had incidents at the school, One of the major ones that was publicized on TV was where two students went to the Little League field adjoining the center and elementary school next door set ablaze property there. Another incident involving the law was involved members of the community that were in physical altercation in a courtyard. Of course being a facility that housed young adults we had the typical incidents that HGA security handled like possession of alcohol which is prohibited within the confines of the center.

WJAC attempted to actually find out more about HGA and what they offer for students there.. While a prepared statement by the Department of Labor of Industry was dispersed to the  local media, the media questions as to whether students are background checked prior to admission.Today, the center had a post on their Facebook Page about their CNA program and stated that background checks were provided as well as all other necessary processes for employment activity.

When learning about HGA almost 20 years ago, I really wanted to go. At the time I was a teenager in High School was unsure of post-secondary plans. I followed the recommended course of action and became involved with the district Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. I did have some prior and then-current behavior that rose concerns to those at the school. Nonetheless the summer between my Sophomore and Junior years, I toured the school, about one hour and fifteen minutes from my home. I seen a model dorm room, visited the shops and common areas and fell in love with it. This is where I wanted to learn.

However OVR and HGA staff had concerns about my attendance at the center. I had to get letters of recommendation along with exhibit one year without a major incident. I adamantly did the next two years. even becoming a swim team manager at the high school and later becoming discharged from in-home wraparound services. However, OVR and HGA staff kept pushing the cart. To make certain of what program you would like to attend, a two to three week evaluation stay is required. While getting all necessary documentation ready, I received a call in the summer of 2004 stating I would get the opportunity to attend a evaluation in October 2004. I had to get a mengonococal vaccine to attend, which became the hardest part. However, my parents PCP agreed to get it for me, costing $80 to get it. When I received the letter from the Admissions Committee indicated that 1.) you will be closely monitored, 2). Any Incidents will lead up to immediate discharge, and 3.) You will meet with the center psychiatrist.

On a Sunday Morning in October 2004, I made the trip to Johnnstown, PA to start my Evaluation visit. I checked in with the Male Dorm Counselor and was assigned my room, which was in at the time a co-ed dormitory. Don’t worry, we didn’t share the bathrooms as we each shared one with the adjoining room and it was equipped with a shower in it. That afternoon, my roommate arrived, which was surprisingly someone I knew from the high school that I attended while in residential treatment. That evening, we got a small walk-around campus by the recreation department. The next morning we visited the counseling department where the counselor stated that he too had reservations about me attending, but deep inside he felt I would be fine.

The first week would be a battery of tests, with one of those evenings participating in a orientation on how to utilize public transportation, something I will never forget, The fist half of the next week resulted in me performing more tests before being able to tryout some more classes the next week and a half, before being able to come home with opportunity in sight.

The next spring, I met with the local OVR counselor who stated that I would be accepted and could chose the General Office Clerk program. While not my first choice, today I am grateful in this choice as I use skills I learned there every day in my job and volunteer opportunities that make me a true asset to both entities. In April of 2005, I would yet receive yet another letter that with the two of the three considerations being there and the “Any Incidents will lead up to immediate discharge” not being there.

In May 2005, I went back to Johnstown and followed the same procedures and was with another roommate that we got along in so many ways. I used the bus, saw the clinic psychiatrist as needed, attended classes as required only missing when needed to do so. That summer I also learned to uses intercity passenger rail to go to Greensburg on the weekends to see my sister, I did this every other weekend. I did play bingo most weeks, spend time with colleagues, the usual stuff. I never had disciplinary action, however the dorm president did advocate for me once when other residents were bullying me. The Christmas there was a dorm decorating contest that I participated in and our dorm won with a pizza party and a movie. The dorm president was the life of the party. Sadly, he completed a suicide a few years back, I do think of him sometimes.

In April of 2006, graduation neared and I was on the honors list all three terms and was honored a kudos award for showing evaluation students to the program. On graduation day, April 28, 2006 I walked on that stage and proudly moved back home.

For a few months I stayed home with my dad, this was detrimental to my life, and a few months later, I returned to the Clubhouse that I attended prior to attending HGA. While sometimes I found this to be a setback in my mental health and vocational recovery, I today reflect on it and find it was one of the best things that I could do for myself. A month after returning there a new director would be appointed , he’s still there today. I would work some jobs off and on. The next year, I would attend colleague training in South Carolina for two weeks on that model. And yet in 2010,when that same director would explore what would be my job. I had no intention at the time on working as I was very happy relying on social security alone.  However, my supervisor was very adamant on bringing me on board, and  I kindly accepted. This job, which will reach the nine-year milestone on being employed in has not opened so many doors, but has made me a better person. Yet, I use those skills that I learned at HGA in my work daily and will continue to do so.

Does HGA have stigma? yes it does. Can you be successful there? Absolutely! It is all in what you make it. If you dont skip class, perform to the best of your abilities and behave, it can be lauded as on of the best opportunities you can have in your life. One of the things I regret is that I never bonded many friendships while there, however, since then I have blossomed socially since and plan to blossom more. In the end, HGA is what you make it, there are successes as well as failures, but don’t bash these three incidents as what it is all about.