Stigma is a horrible and a harmful thing. If you are seen as different, people can be rude, unwelcoming or just downright cruel. If you have a child who experiences Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) I’m sure you would have experienced some level of stigma in your lives. You have likely been through a time when you and your child have been judged, ridiculed, criticized and even ostracized. This type of behavior can be extremely hurtful. Over time it can cause depression, shame and impact self-esteem and confidence.
Some parents may even hesitate to take their children to be assessed for ASD because they are worried about “labeling” their child and introducing them and their family to the stigma attached to such a diagnosis. The problem with this though is that it won’t help your child at all. If they truly do have ASD, then they will continue to experience the symptoms and difficulties that come along with this diagnosis. However, due to a lack of proper assessment and diagnosis, they are unlikely to get any support for these difficulties which can hinder their overall development.
So what can we do?
We work to reduce the stigma around ASD (and other developmental and mental health concerns while we’re at it!)
There are 4 ways to do do this. First, you must have a really strong understanding of what ASD is and educate others about this. Know and show others that there is more to a person than this label. Show others some of the ways that ASD can be positive. Finally, advocate for ASD.
1) Know what ASD is.
Much of the stigma that exists around ASD has been created from fear and misconceptions. Unfortunately, as humans, what we do not understand is that we fear. Although, ASD is becoming more widely known, it is still rarely completely understood. This is certainly understandable given that even the professionals are still making discoveries in ASD research. However, there is enough research to put to bed some of the concerns of other parents such as the fear that their child will “catch” ASD from your child or that they will learn their “bad behaviors”. With a better understanding of exactly what ASD is and what causes it, we can dispel many of these myths. Rather than approaching such stigma with anger, try and see each of these times as an opportunity to educate someone on ASD. For a more detailed understanding on what ASD is, head over to our other page [What is Autism Spectrum Disorder].
2) Know that your child is more than the ASD.
Remember the “S” in ASD? This stands for spectrum and means that not everyone with ASD will experience the same symptoms or the same level of difficulties. Unfortunately, often, people will mentally put every child with a diagnosis of ASD into the same category in their mind. Then, all they see when they see your child is their preconceived ideas of a group of symptoms and disorders that may not even apply to them!
Although, they may identify with the ASD diagnosis, but it does not entirely make them. Try and identify what makes your child unique outside of their diagnosis and highlight this to others.
3) Know the positives.
We all know the negative aspects of ASD by now. But, have you considered that some of the symptoms of ASD can actually have positive affects?
These are just a few examples of some of the many positives that ASD can bring about for people. If those who are judging or pulling away from your child knew about these positives, they may have a different attitude towards ASD.
4) Finally, advocate, advocate and advocate some more.
Nothing is going to change if we don’t keep working on it. Unfortunately, fear and misconceptions spread much faster than anything else so we’ve got our work cut out for us. However, by just changing one person’s view, you may start a ripple of changes. As they see someone else being judgmental, they can pass on the knowledge you gave them. More and more support is becoming available because of the wonderful work that people have done to advocate for ASD. However, further support and better overall attitudes towards ASD is required. The more you advocate, the closer we get to a more accepting and supportive culture for ASD.