No doubt you’ve seen the story of the arrest of a man after he pushed an autistic teen in Cobbs Hill Park. The teen was participating in a running event for his school, and had fallen behind.
While the facts of the case have not been fully disclosed, what has seeped out is that perhaps the teen was confused and seeking help from the gentleman, who claims to have feared that he and his wife were going to be attacked by the teen. It will be up to a court to decide if what the man did was criminal behavior. But what seems evident is that the behavior was reflective of a segment of society that is still entirely unaware of autism, how it might look, and how to react to it. While Autism Awareness Month is not until April, it seems with this story that awareness is something we need to strengthen now.
One in 68 births in the U.S. is an autistic child. We live in an inclusive society where autism is not a sentence for someone to live their life in isolation. Many autistic people are hard-working members of society and highly successful. There is an array of functioning, and while there are common patterns of behavior, no two people are the same. Autism can effect communication, social interaction, the ability to take the perspective of others, flexibility of thought, and emotional regulation among other things. Autistic people rely on structure, predictability and routine, and can get terrified or confused without it. Autism may or may not be paired with other developmental delays.
This teen was participating on a school team, which is now commonplace. Gone are the days when special needs students were excluded. Kids growing up see this every day in their schools, and have a stronger understanding and acceptance than some adults who grew up in different times. As adults, we need to open our minds to an inclusive world, and understand how to react. Minimizing overreactions and heightening awareness is key. As adults we need to understand what we are seeing and help manage those behaviors with respect, rather than jumping to conclusions or judgment. As someone who works with autism on a daily basis I can say these students make me smile each and every day. Please take the time to research autism, what it looks like, and how you can react in a supportive and respectful way. Your reactions can make all the difference in their lives.