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‘You Can’t Believe Everything You See in the Movies Regarding Autism’

April is Autism Awareness Month. We appreciate George Stewart, our Board President, sharing this thoughtful guest blog post.

Autism Acceptance - George Stewart - Families as AlliesRecently, I had the pleasure of being a guest on Dr. Susan Buttross’ radio show “Relatively Speaking.”   The main topics discussed were a book I had written and my experience of raising a son diagnosed with autism.

During the show, one of the callers made a comment that really hit me. The caller said that based on what he saw in movies, he wouldn’t mind “some of that autism.” It’s movies like “Rain Man” that give people this thought.

In “Rain Man” one of the main characters is autistic and has the gift of superb recall. Because of this gift, he was able to help his brother win thousands of dollars by counting cards at the casino in Las Vegas. It’s movies like “Rain Man” and others that make it appear that all people diagnosed with autism are mathematical and scientific geniuses and appear to have superhuman abilities. However, that is not always the case.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means that NO two autistic people are exactly alike. They can be high functioning, severely impacted, and everything in between. Some autistic people exhibit high levels of intelligence with light social challenges. And there are some who are nonverbal, have social challenges, and need support with handling daily living activities.

As a parent and advocate, I’m always looking for ways to better support our autism community, especially our autistic children. I’m advocating for things such as improvements in teaching practices to the creation of local and state policies. This year I advocated for a bill (HB 490) that was introduced in the House of Representative this legislative session. This bill addressed the issue that 50% of children diagnosed with autism tend to wander away from their safe space.

The autism community is a very special group in our society. However, it’s a special group that has real challenges and need real support. I don’t know if that caller was serious, due to ignorance of the diagnosis, or just being facetious.

Either way, my response to him was, “You can’t always believe what you see in the movies.”

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