How would you react if one day you found an anonymous letter on your door? You would be intrigued and open it. What you might not be expecting to find is a letter wishing the death of your child. You would probably be shocked and scared at the same time. That is exactly what Marianna felt when she read the letter threatening to ‘exterminate’ her son because he had autism. Just one piece of paper with some ink on it turned her life upside down. Marianna and her family changed house, street and town because of that paper. Her son was being despised just because of how he was. This made her hate autism and weep over the fact that her son had been cursed with this condition.
I am here to convince you to accept autistic people for the way they are. So that they do not live in humiliation and are not set apart into special institutions. People do not understand the exceptional abilities that come with autism. I will make sure that after this speech you do, and that you appreciate how great they are.
The dictionary describes autism as a mental condition existing from early childhood, which includes disabilities with interacting amongst other people. However, the dictionary is wrong. It is missing the most important! Where does it say that some autistic people can recite the number pi for hours? Where is it written that some can just glance at a complicated structure like the Taj Mahal and draw it out perfect to the last stone? Where is it shown that some can say on which day of the week any date will fall? People should be told the advantages of autism as well as the disadvantages. Autistic savant George Widener stuns everyone with his superhuman calculating and memory skills. Gary McKinnon, a computer hacker who broke into high-security military and government site. Daniel Tammet who can talk 10 languages and learnt one in a week. These are all autistic people who have learnt to take advantage of their exceptional abilities. This is what parents should be told when they are presented with a child diagnosed with autism. This is what everyone should be told so that no parents or autistic child should have to suffer rejection and humiliation.
To be able to accept autism, you need to understand it. Autism is very hard to understand since there are so many different and unique cases. Here is a bit of background explanation: in the last 50 years, scientists have tried to understand how an autistic brain works and how it is formed. Before that, scientists believed an autistic child was simply a very insecure and unstable child. It was only during those years that scientists realised it is something present at the birth of the baby; the brain is physically different when compared to a non-autistic child. After many experiments, they concluded that autism is to do with genes, which is believed to cause the unusual behaviour. What do I mean by unusual behaviour? They feel uncomfortable around other people, making eye-contact, having close friends… They do things like pinching, kicking, slapping, they will not talk for a few days, not liking being touched, they like routines, do repetitive actions like tapping, etc. The hardest part for parents is to deal with their child not showing affection for them and to seem disconnected from the world. This makes them focus on trying to change their child instead of helping their problems and working with their abilities. This is natural in parents since they want to have a ‘normal’ child and do ‘normal’ activities with them. It is tough for them to realise that they have to adapt to this unexpected speed bump. If our civilisation works on the parents’ attitudes’, many things can be accomplished. What if an autistic child cures your cancer one day? What if one invents a rocket that will bring us to Jupiter? What if one solves our economic crisis? There are endless possibilities with autistic people. Let us turn those ‘what ifs’ into ‘oh wells’ and see if these dreams are actually possible. However, this is only achievable if we make parents and the child work together to create a secure environment for everyone. Then discoveries and inventions will happen.
Temple Grandin’s mother was not affected by all the criticism directed towards her, and forced her autistic daughter to go to school and then university. It was thanks to her determination that Temple was able to overcome her fear of people. Temple Grandin is now able to present lectures everywhere about her autism and explain what a great gift it is. It was her autism which allowed her to observe small details other people did not. She noticed how nervous cows would get, before being slaughtered, simply because of the surface they walked on. She revolutionised slaughterhouses, which resulted in less cows suffering and meat being much tenderer. This could not have happened without her autism. She says it herself that she is glad she has autism and identifies it as a wonderful gift. This is what autistic children should be encouraged to think at an early age. Temple was only able to do this with the encouragement of her family. Autism does come with incapacities, but in an environment where everyone supports them, they will strive through our society. Then, autism will not be regarded as a disability anymore.
If you now believe autism is more of an ability than a disability, support and accept them. It is the least we can do for them. Prevent scientists from trying to find a ‘cure’ to autism. Autism is not a disease! Autism should not be treated like the enemy; it should be benefitted from by supporting those who have it. By making them focus on their talents. By repeatedly telling them that they are not abnormal, but that they are unique just like everyone else. They are human beings, just like everyone else. They have the right to be respected, just like everyone else. Why are autistic people being kept in special institutions? Is it because they have brilliant minds? Or is it because they are ‘socially awkward’? They are indispensable to humanity; they make our culture more vivid, more remarkable. Together with autistic people, anything is possible. Great minds should not and cannot be ignored.
TED talk by Temple Grandin