A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Autism awareness

Bringing a voice to autism

As April draws to a close, it’s apparent that I need to remind everyone that April is Autism Awareness Month. This seems necessary because the month has gone by and not a single march or lecture was put on by our student body concerning the autism spectrum. When February came, we had discussions about the African-American community. The same thing happened with Women’s History Month. But when April came along, the Santa Rosa Junior College campus seemed to focus on transgender rights and nothing else. This gives me the impression that our college forgot about autism awareness.

Despite highlighting these facts, I am not upset. But as someone with high-functioning autism, I am disappointed. What I want to know is why? Why didn’t we have any discussions or marches about students on the autism spectrum and what we can do to support them? Was the autistic community supposed to put on events themselves? Or do we not suffer enough to warrant concern? I can assure you that we suffer. Maybe not to the same extent as other groups, but we face challenges nonetheless.

If you are wondering what autism is exactly, then this is proof of why we need autism awareness. Autism is a mental condition and disorder characterized by challenges with social skills as well as speech and nonverbal communication. Autism is also characterized by repetitive behaviors. That is a bare bones definition. There is much more to autism than that.

Autism comes in many forms. That is why it is called a spectrum. People with autism can show a variety of behaviors ranging from the socially awkward genius to the kid in elementary school who would throw tantrums for the slightest of reasons. But those are broad brushstrokes. In reality, there is no typical case of autism. Keep that in mind as you read this opinion.

Some, like myself, are high functioning. We, with the right tools, can function well and independently in society. If you met me in person, you might not even have a clue that I am a person with autism unless you knew what to look for. At least that’s what people tell me.

But those are the best cases. There are those who cannot speak. They lack the vital ability to communicate with others. Because of this, they require lifelong aid.

We are not oppressed by society, rather, we do not fit in with society. In our world, we need to communicate and collaborate with others. Everything, from buying groceries at the store to getting a job, requires some level of social interaction. Autistic people cannot do that as easily. We have trouble picking up visual and auditory cues that differentiate an attention getting yell from an angry yell; politeness from sincerity. These cues are the driving force behind many of the day-to-day interactions people without autism take for granted. For those of us with autism, they are skills that take a while to learn, if they can be learned at all.

The families of people with autism might struggle the most. For most people with autism, their autism is just a part of their lives. Some might not even know any better. It’s the parents who bear the burden of making sure their child gets the best out of life.

If anyone deserves sympathy, it would be them.

Imagine the constant worry that your child will always be “different.” Imagine the stress of wondering if your child will lead a “normal” life. The fact that I am here now at SRJC is because of my mother. When I was diagnosed with autism, the doctors told my mother that it would be a miracle for me to finish high school. My mother set out to prove them wrong. Thanks to her tremendous efforts, I got the advocacy and resources I needed to get through school.

I know that autistic people do not make up a large percentage of our campus. Most do not make it this far. This should not stop the student body from speaking on behalf of the autistic community. Colleges are the driving force behind many social movements. In the ‘60s, college students led the charge in ending segregation and the Vietnam War. To this day, our college continues that legacy. Imagine what we could do for those with autism if we just start the conversation.

This is why we should honor Autism Awareness Month and talk about autism, the people who have it and what we can do for them. For now, I give you these facts from the Autism Society, an autism advocacy organization:

—Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion annually. A majority of costs in the U.S. are in adult services—$175-196 billion, compared to $61-66 billion for children.

—The U.S. cost of autism over the lifespan is about $2.4 million for a person with an intellectual disability, or $1.4 million for a person without intellectual disability. Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and intervention.

—Thirty-five percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school.

—It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism.

People with autism can have amazing lives. They can become the people who create the world of tomorrow. However, they need help to get there. This is why we need more Autism awareness. Awareness is the first step in getting and improving the programs and services autistic people need to succeed in life.

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About the Contributor
Grant Wetmore
Grant Wetmore, Staff Writer

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  • S

    Susane ByrneJun 15, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Beautiful article on autism, Grant. I was especially moved by your writing: “People with autism can have amazing lives. They can become the people who create the world of tomorrow.” You forgot to add that people with autism can leave indelible impressions on the minds and hearts of teachers who are privileged to work with them, myself being one of them because I had you as a student! I’ve lost your email address, so I have to rely on somehow this message reaching you. You can still reach me through Montgomery High, although I’m retiring this year. Keep in touch, and keep up with your writing; you have important things to say!

  • K

    Kitti PuterbaughApr 27, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Great article on bringing awareness to the Autism spectrum
    that effects 1 in 50 kids born today . Great job Grant. Thank you.