Happy World Autism Awareness Day
I'm a day late, but happy Autism Awareness Day! April is Autism Awareness Month, and yesterday was the first official World Autism Awareness Day. From now on, April 2nd will always be Autism Awareness Day.
The first lady of Qatar, who is apparently quite progressive, was one of the people who pushed for this day. This CNN video about autism services in Qatar is quite fascinating. However, since the focus of the story is on a severely affected autistic child at a school just for kids with autism, I do feel the need to mention that if CNN were to bring a camera to one of the mainstream preschool or kindergarten classrooms that I am working in this year, they would not be able to tell which kid is autistic! With the right behavioral and language intervention, many kids with autism can succeed in a mainstream classroom and become indistinguishable from their mainstream peers. That is not to say that a separate school is not the right choice for some families. But I've noticed that TV stories too often focus only on severely autistic kids, which can lead to stereotypes.
As most of us already know, there is a huge spectrum of kids with autism, thus the "autism spectrum." Many kids diagnosed today have milder forms of autism. Since there is no typical physical characteristic that distinguishes autism (like there is with Down Syndrome and other disorders), I feel that tv/new media journalists too often choose to visualize autism by using kids that look developmentally abnormal in order to garner more sympathy in their stories.
Most kids with autism do not, in fact, look developmentally abnormal. In fact, to be a bit shallow, most of the kids I've worked with have been considered by their peers and teachers to be very cute and even beautiful children. But I guess beautiful-looking children do not evoke as much sympathy. Still, this issue aside, the story about services in Qatar is quite interesting.
I feel that print journalists tend to do a better job of covering the whole spectrum, since they don't feel the need to go for the visual sympathy-evoking element. Here is another story from CNN that focuses on a more high-functioning boy whose mom amazingly discovered that other women who used the same sperm donor had autistic children as well.