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Mental Health

World Autism Awareness Day: What It Means To One Student

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Since 1970, April has been Autism Awareness Month. Today, called the Autism Spectrum Disease (ASD), this holiday is in hopes of educating people and commemorating those with it. As this is a wide spectrum brain-based disorder, no two people with ASD are the same. But some common characteristics are impairments or trouble with social behavior and interactions, difficulty learning, or even repetitive behaviors. About one in every 150 people in America are on the spectrum.

To celebrate this day, Her Campus Clark has interviewed one student, who is on the spectrum and has asked to stay anonymous. Here’s the interview:

Q: What does being on the spectrum mean to you?

A: For me, it means I’m not particularly familiar with what is an acceptable/normal form of being social. It means every conversation is a constant challenge.

Q: Do you remember how/when you found out you were on the spectrum?

A: I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t know.

Q: How did it make you feel?

A: I just knew that something made me different, and it was nice to have a name for it.

Q: Has your outlook on being on the spectrum changed over your life?

A: I’ve gone from wearing it like a badge of honor to trying to hide it, and back to being vocal about it. I’m hoping to stay in the latter category for the majority of my life, because even though it causes me problems, it has shaped who I am today. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Q: Have you faced any specific difficulties in life because you are on the spectrum? Like what?

A: Yes. I’ve come to call it the “vital disconnect.” It’s those moments when something is lost on me because of some subtle social cue, like sarcasm that isn’t obviously sarcastic. It also makes it a lot harder for me to be social in a conventional way. I’m forced to analyze my interactions a lot more to figure out what I’m doing well and what I have to improve on.

Q: Do you think there is a social understanding around being on the spectrum? Does it need to change?

A: I think it’s getting better, but we still have a long way to go. Most people (at least in my experience) don’t know a ton about it, and it can be exhausting to explain it sometimes. Autism Speaks and the Anti Vax movement also make it difficult to spread correct information when so many falsehoods exist around us. I’m not like this because I got a shot once, and I hate that people still treat ASD like a contractible illness.

Q: What does Autism Awareness Day mean to you?

A: The word “awareness” doesn’t feel quite right. It makes it feel like being on the spectrum is some kind of disease, instead of just being a neurological divergence. I’ll take this space to encourage people to refer to it as Autism Acceptance Day, and to avoid the organization Autism Speaks. Instead, support the Autism Self Advocacy Network or the National Autism Association, and please do not light up blue! We want people to be aware but not as if it’s an illness. We want people to be aware that we are seeking respect and acceptance and that we are proud of who we are!

Monica Sager is a freelance writer from Clark University, where she is pursuing a double major in psychology and self-designed journalism with a minor in English. She wants to become an investigative journalist to combat and highlight humanitarian issues. Monica has previously been published in The Pottstown Mercury, The Week UK, Worcester Telegram and Gazette and even The Boston Globe. Read more of Monica’s previous work on her Twitter @MonicaSager3.
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