Letter to the Editor
Autism is an overlooked subject that has always been close to my heart. It is a chronic developmental spectrum disorder which impairs an individual’s ability to interact and communicate with others.
There is not yet a cure for autism, but by advocating for its acceptance and awareness, we can provide individuals on the autism spectrum with a world that allows them to spread their wings and grow rather than constrains them for their “disabilities.”
My passion for spreading awareness of autism and advocating for acceptance within my community originates from an experience I had at a young age — a conversation with one of my little brother’s playmates, Arsh.
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I still remember the feeling of surprise I had when I was walking home one day and saw him having from what afar seemed to be a panic attack. His hands were covering his ears, and he was curled up into a defensive ball on an open park bench.
Recognizing that he sometimes played with my little brother at our house, I went over to him and gently asked what was wrong.
Eventually, after promising I wouldn’t tell anyone I saw him, he told me that the other kids in his class were bullying him and calling him terrible names like “freak” and “loser” because he did things like flap his hands when he got excited. He cried as he explained how even his teacher had called a meeting with his parents to complain about his quirks, calling them disrespectful and abnormal.
At the time I didn’t realize it, but Arsh was just another kid who lacked the support system and knowledge to understand that he had autism. His parents and teachers had been totally oblivious to the possibility of autism, and thus he endured a long childhood in which other children ostracized and mercilessly bullied him for displaying the quirks many children with autism did.
Arsh could have had a far more comfortable childhood had those surrounding him been equipped with the knowledge to recognize, seek treatment, and, most importantly, appreciate his autism.
Four years after that day in the park, I overheard my mom talking to Arsh’s parents about how one of his teachers with a child who was diagnosed with autism had referred Arsh to a therapist. That therapist helped Arsh’s family realize he was on the autism spectrum.
Eventually, with hard work and the proper support system, Arsh, whom many had silently judged incapable of achieving the things “normal” people could due to his disorder, went on to win an elementary science fair contest. He proved to many that his “disability” was, in fact, an ability that reared its head in the form of an amazing aptitude for science and math.
Experiences like these inspired me to found and serve as the president of the Autism Awareness Club at Clovis North High School in the fall of 2015. This club was the first autism-related club in Clovis Unified School District, and I have loved watching it grow in the last couple of years.
All of the members are passionate individuals who joined the club in interest of collaborating and volunteering with both the Autism Center at Fresno State and Valley Children’s Hospital at events such as awareness walks.
I also give presentations on how to recognize autism at schools throughout the Central Valley. I hope that in the years to come, my peers and I can continue to grow the autism awareness movement that has began at my high school, bonding together to ignore stigmas and celebrate the differences of people diagnosed with autism.
My passion for raising awareness and acceptance for autism has only been strengthened by the work that I have personally done abroad in India, which included giving presentations on how to recognize and seek out treatment for autism at severely underfunded schools in Indian villages. Moreover, while in India, I had the incredible opportunity to shadow therapists and doctors treating children on the spectrum at the Global Institute for Autism in Punjab, India.
Experiences like this have endowed me with an increased respect for the work that those who treat and advocate for autism do, as well as imbued me with an invaluable lesson: by treating children with autism with endless compassion and steady patience, we can enable them to bloom into successful adults.
Even today, there are still many teens and adults who lack an understanding of what autism is or how to treat individuals with the disorder. As the prevalence of autism globally is rising at an astonishing rate, this is extremely concerning.
If the teens and adults of our generation are not equipped with the knowledge to understand and accept autism, where will that leave the millions of individuals with autism around the world?
Not only will people on the spectrum lack the proper support and acceptance they need to blossom into successful adults, but the world will miss out on a plethora of new ideas and the hidden brilliance which many individuals with autism have to offer.
Unknown to many, people with autism are more than just the faces we occasionally see around us; they are extremely successful, bright individuals like Bill Gates who pave the path for new discoveries and are our world leaders.
Try to imagine a world without the gifts and inventions of adults on the autism spectrum like Amadeus Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton, and even Albert Einstein, whom many scientists believe had autism — it would not be a world as advanced as the one we live in today.
This summer, I have been selected for the opportunity to conduct psychological research as a biomedical intern at the UCSF research center in Fresno, along with nine other high school students throughout the Central San Joaquin Valley. I am very grateful for this chance to continue to gain more knowledge about developmental disorders like autism to share with my peers and community.
Knowledge leads to understanding, and understanding is the key to accepting and embracing the abilities of people with autism. With patience and acceptance, we can all be a part of a community that celebrates and views autistic people not as individuals with disabilities, but as heroes with unique abilities.