I know I said I was back last time and then disappeared for another month lol, but with school work and planning a wedding (yay!!) things have been pretty hectic to say the least. Anyways, I wanted to dedicate this post to a social change movement that I am currently passionate about. As some of you may know, or not know, I am a Registered behavioral therapist working within the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis. I absolutely love what I do and the population I work with. I work with individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and if you have ever met anyone with Autism you probably know how it feels to be showered with unconditional love and utter bliss (sometimes!) to be honest, sometimes its quite the contrary. My point is, this population has a lot to offer! and as a community we must give them a chance to express themselves as who they are! while this post might be a little longer than most, I want to open the forum up for discussion! This post talks about what the Autism Rights Movement is, racial and ethnic disparities within the diagnosis, the role of psychologist in terms of educating society and advancing the movement, and future works that we as a community can do to be better advocates or supporters for those with Autism.
The Autism Rights Movement
The Autism Rights movement is a movement developed by autistic adults advocating for neurodiversity. Welin and Jaarsma (2011) define the concept of neurodiversity as an atypical neurological development within the spectrum of human differences (Welin& Jaarsma,2011). Moving forward, the primary goal of the movement is to change the narrative of what it means to be autistic. These individuals want their counterparts to stop labeling autism as a disorder to be cured, but a lifestyle that needs to be accepted. The group compare themselves to the gay-rights movement and the black lives matter movement, stating that they too deserve equal treaments and employment opportunites (Somashekhar,2015). Individuals among the Autism Rights Movement consider themselves a minority group, demanding justice and inclusion from neurotypical people. Lastly, these individuals are not ignorant to the fact that the autism spectrum involves individuals who range from severely impaired to mildly impaired, they want to be taught how to independently manage their lives without changing the core components of who they are.
Disparity in diagnoses of Autism
While the focus of this blog is the Autism Rights Movement, I also want to make sure that I discuss the disparity within the diagnosis. As a young and educated black woman, I want to ensure that I speak on social injustice that plagues the black community. One that speaks volumes to me is the disparity within the diagnoses. Individuals with Autism are found in varying demographics, they are found in all cultures, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. However, there is little data on the “ethnic breakdown of children within this disability category (Morrier, Hess, & Heflin,2008). For this social change blog assignment, I would like to give special attention to the ethnic inequalities in the diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder, particularly honing in on the African-American and latino community. Individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder are a disadvantaged minority within the community; they are prone to bullying, unfair treatments, discrimination, and etc. . . With that being said, it is unfortunate that this disparity is doubled for individuals who are disadvantaged based on socioeconomic status, color, race, culture, gender, etc. Recent studies have “identified racial disparities in access to general medical services for children with ASD” (Fitzpatrick & Kind,2017). The same study mentions that African-American children are more likely to receive another diagnosis such as emotional disturbance before receiving an ASD diagnosis. Further black children are diagnosed with ASD 1.5 years later than their European counterparts (average age for diagnosis is between 2- 4).FitzPatrick and Kind (2017) also mention that Inequalities also exist in the “availability of and access to ASD treatment services” (Fitzpatrick &Kind,2017). Research has shown that early intervention is imperative in helping a child with autism live a normal life by improving the child’s overall development.
The role of psychology
The role of psychology for policy change would be to first acknowledge that there is a problem. As psychologist our role is to bring awareness to inequalities and develop a solution to combat such disparity. Sadly this issue is not a popular subject as it pertains to the special needs community (minority) and the black/latino community (minority); fortunately, as per APA ethics code section 3: Human Relations, subset 3.01 Unfair discrimination: psychologist follow a moral guidleine bounded by law that states psychologist must not engage in unfair discrimination based on race, gender, sex, SES, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or disability when dealing with clients. Psychology is essential to this policy change because we bring an unbiased perspective, and our mission is to shed light on areas darkened by social inequality and unfair treatments. We create written protocols, work in partnership with mental health practitioners, and do extensive research on how this subject is an issue and how it is affecting the community both on the micro and macro level. If nothing is done, more and more minority individuals with ASD will continue to fall through the cracks of society and end up living beneath their potential. The same concept applies to those on the spectrum at large
Functionalism or the functionalist perspective based on the work of Herbert Spencer, Emilie Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Merton is a system that interconnects each part of society to work in harmony and maintain a state of balance and equilibrium for the whole society (Mooney, Knox, and Schacht, 2007). For example, family, government, education, and religious institutions constitute of important functions for society. Family provides nurture, support, and offspring reproduction; government provides means of governing the society, education, employment, and law; education offers knowledge and tools for individuals within the society to gain employment; and religious institutions provide moral guidance. On a macro level these structures help keep the society stable, if one structure fails the rest will go down also. For instance, let’s look at the government shut down that occurred earlier this year, many businesses laid of employees due to funding, families were left without money, schools were running on limited aid to support teachers and students, and society as a whole was unstable.
In the case of the Autism Rights Movement, neurodiversity will allow these individuals to grow into tax paying adults capable of producing a stable economy. Also, there will be a significant decrease in the amount of funding taxpayers pay to group homes, or the disbaled community. That money will go to people who truly depend on it, I have worked in a group home with high functioning adults that were capable of working and becoming prominent members within the community. Unfortunately, lack of independence and resources keep these individuals confined in a home/environment they do not belong in. We fear accepting the culture might lead to instability within the society, but I beg to differ. I believe it would make us stronger as a system, because unity and inclusion has never destroyed a nation.
Conclusion/ Future work
The Autism Rights Movement has gained some attention in the media amongst bloggers, social activist, and autistic individuals who have prevailed in television and the workforce. People such as Anthony Hopkins (actor) Courtney Love (Singer) Woody Allen (writer, director, and actor), Hayley Moss (attorney) and so many more. With the rise of people on the spectrum advancing within the society and overcoming obstacles autism is taking on a new meaning, and it’s no longer something to be ashamed of, but a strength to be proud of. Also, autism awareness month has led to many individuals on the spectrum speaking out about their condition without shame; hence, why we now see the Autism Rights Movement on the rise. Further, Television shows such as the good doctor, The Big Bang Theory, and sesame street are paving the way to neurodiversity. With that being said, we still have some work to do; we have to go beyond filters and social media and truly take a stance on inclusion. For parents this means teaching your children how to appropriately respond to peers with autism, we have to teach them to be kind and accepting of their classmates that may be a little different; this is where it all begins. The trajectory of their lives begins in grade school and how they were treated by their peers. As adults we cannot shy away from working with individuals with autism or hiring them in our companies. With that being said, we still have some work to do; we have to go beyond filters and social media and truly take a stance on inclusion. For parents this means teaching your children how to appropriately respond to peers with autism, we have to teach them to be kind and accepting of their classmates that may be a little different; this is where it all begins. The trajectory of their lives begins in grade school and how they were treated by their peers. As adults we cannot shy away from working with individuals with autism or hiring them in our companies.
I hope this was informative as well as it was thought provoking, To make a difference, screenshot the symbol and posit it on your social media page with the hashtag #IamforNeurodiversity