By Philip G. Wenger
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has caused a wide range of severity in symptoms and attributes in those with the diagnosis. Trying to more easily understand ASD, many overgeneralize its effects on all autistic individuals. This misunderstanding combined with a cynical point-of-view on the value of such individuals’ lives has led to the encouragement of negative stigma surrounding the disorder, and all who are affected by it. Rights and freedoms for autistic people are constantly threatened by such injustices, and attempts are being made to alter policy to grant the respect that these people, just as all others, may deserve. Such changes are being established in schools and workplaces, in the government, and across the world.
Age plays a big role in how an autistic individual is treated. For children, there is much focus on prevention, treatment, and assistance, but not much is widely known about autistic adults. Adults with ASD face challenges in joining the workforce, integrating into society, and living independently. Regardless of age, many are concerned for the rights of these people, and solutions are being developed to provide these rights with certainty. Autistic children are given the right to free and appropriate education provided by The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was revised in 2004. IDEA includes the right to a “Least Restrictive Environment,” which involves including autistic children in the regular curriculum. For this to be accomplished, a one-on-one aide must accompany the child in some cases. Furthermore, Free intervention services are freely provided to children younger than three who have development delays. After age three, the local school provides special education services and prepares the child for education with an individualized education program. Extended school year services are provided to those at risk of losing learned skills over the summer school break. These rights are all defined by laws set in place to ensure a healthy and fair development and education for an autistic child. However, after school is over and the individual with ASD moves into the workforce, different and less regulated laws apply. There are no laws against bullying at the workplace, however complaints under the law can be made concerning discrimination and harassment. The equality act can help disabled employees to be treated equally. If an autistic employee feels mistreated in any way, such as being mocked, being taken advantage of, or being treated differently, he or she may seek help. Employees who feel bullied who are part of a union can talk to that union’s safety representative, who can offer advice and support. Armed Forces jobs aren’t covered by the equality act, but in most cases those with ASD can find relief from mistreatment and abuse of personal rights,
Within the United States, many autistic adults are seeking to increase public knowledge of what autism really is and to improve rights and respect for themselves and for fellow autistic citizens. ART is an organization believing passionately in equality and respect in society made of autistic and like-minded Neurotypicals. ART, standing for Autistic Rights Together, fights against negative stigma or shame driven by the search for a cure, which can lead to dehumanization, and even cruel experimentation. ART sees that many laws regarding autism rights are made by those without autism. In response, they seek to help those with autism contribute to decisions regarding their rights and their life. As said on the ART website, “…no more about us without us.” ART hopes to educate those who may not understand autism from every level of society. ART is progressing right along with the Autism Rights Movement. The key belief within the Autism Rights Movement is that autism is not a disorder. Aspies for Freedom is a prominent group within the movement, consisting of high-functioning individuals with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. They are against abusive therapy and any kind of autism cure, and they want people with Autism to be seen as a minority group. They also seek to have more services made available to autistic adults. The Autism Rights Movement receives a lot of criticism from those who argue that while some autistic people may be able to function rather well as adults, many remain unrepresented with a need of assistance and further treatment. Because children often suffer stronger symptoms, the argument can at times between parents of autistic children and autistic adults. While these organizations and movements are progressing in achieving equality for all autistic people, much of the fight is dripping with controversy.
The United States is not the only country with the task of aiding autistic people, nor is it the only one seeking equality. In the United Nations, 62 out of 139 members of the general assembly acknowledged the Conventions for the rights of children and for the rights of persons with disabilities, which give the freedoms for such individuals to live a full life in the same community as other children, to live in dignity, and to be economically self-reliant in adulthood. These established rights are often hard to implement for many countries, especially in those with Low and Middle Income. In these countries, limited expertise and treatment sources limit the possibility of early detection and intervention in many cases. This is true in South Africa, with intervention services and specialized schools overwhelmed with keeping up with demands. Still, progress in South Africa is being made, as professional training is being provided. In similar Low and Middle-Income Countries, it is not uncommon for parents with an autistic child to suffer from negative social stigma, and even being limited from employment. Parents cope with these issues in the worst ways by spending less time with their children. Children developing with ASD should learn to connect with their parents, and for them to be instead pushed away can further disrupt mental growth. Cultural influences on the understanding and treatment of autism, such as in this case, have varying effects on those with the disorder, and they are not studied very often. Started by the “Autism Speaks” advocacy organization, the Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative works with over 20 different countries across the planet to identify community priorities, develop plans for public health infrastructure, reduce misinformation and negative stigma, conduct research, boost awareness, and adapt treatment to local norms. Hope surely remains in the promise that the many organizations like these that seek to provide care and support while minimizing negative misunderstandings within societies.
Despite the bad connotation of autism held by many societies and individuals, the world is accomplishing a lot in providing the rights and freedoms individuals with ASD require at school, work, or life as a whole. Autism is defined as a spectrum, and freedom should be provided when needed just as care should be provided when needed. Providing rights to the disabled is a goal held by many individuals, organizations, and nations, and many hope for it to soon be a global accomplishment.
“Advice about Work.” The National Autistic Society, 26 Oct. 2016, www.autism.org.uk/about/adult-life/work.aspx. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.
“The Autism Rights Movements.” Synapse, autism-help.org/points-autism-rights-movement.htm. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.
“Autistic Rights Together ‘ART.'” Autistic Rights Together, 2015, autisticrightstogether.ie/index.php/about-us. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.
Juneau, Gary, and Neal S. Rubin. “Global Awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Impact and Interventions.” American Psychological Association, June 2015, www.apa.org/international/pi/2015/06/autism-spectrum.aspx. Accessed 5 Apr. 2017.
“Your Child’s Rights.” Autism Speaks, 2017, www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/your-childs-rights. Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.