There are 3.5 million truck drivers, homeless people and Evangelical Lutherans in the United States each, respectively.
You would never say that people with any one of these traits are rare, or that people belonging to these groups don’t play an important role in our society.
There’s another group of people numbering 3.5 million, and those members are deemed rare and almost disposable in our society – people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
ASD affects individuals in multiple ways – from behavioral and social interactions, to sensory and intellectual complications.
As we celebrate Autism Awareness Month this April, it’s vital to remember that people with the disorder are a valuable asset to society and every single one of them has a skill that can apply to the workforce. As fellow students, professors and potential employers to people with autism, it’s important for us to be a support system for those around us who are impacted.
There are a lot of ways that everyone can have a positive impact in the life of someone with autism. Often, it doesn’t take much.
The first significant step everyone can take is to simply treat people with autism like people. While the severity of the disorder is heavily varied from one person to the next, they all happen to have one thing in common – they are still human.
Having feelings and these distinct personality traits doesn’t get wiped away because of someone’s disability, just like you would never assume that all truck drivers all live the same lives or that every person who is homeless is so for the same reasons.
Student peers of people with autism can serve as a life-changing support system in a number of ways. There are academic-related ways to give support, in a way as literal as being a tutor or a classroom aid to students of any age with autism. Then there are ways to change the classroom environment through how you act, by being patient and understanding of people with autism, encouraging them to succeed at every turn and learning to catch others when they fail.
During Autism Awareness Month, it’s crucial for us to remember that it’s not only the peers of a student with autism that can form a strong support system, but also professors and academic staff.
A classroom for a person with autism doesn’t look like the same classroom for students who don’t suffer from a cognitive disability, or students with other kinds of learning disabilities.
In order to help bridge the gap to knowledge, professors should note that they may need to shift their teaching style to best accommodate a person in their class who has autism.
Making changes in the classroom that better facilitate learning and concept comprehension will better set people with autism for success in their future professions.
Danielle Tolzmann, board member and former president of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin, said that nationally, 70 percent of people living with autism are either unemployed or underemployed.