Arlene is on the SCENE

Power of Autism

Posted on: November 7, 2011

Researcher Laurent Mottron recently wrote a commentary talking about changing perceptions and the power of autism.  I read this post at the end of two days visiting south Philadelphia schools, talking to kids about appreciating differences and really opening their minds to seeing disability as a difference, not as a problem.

(BTW, Big shout-out to my friends at A. Vare, Taggart, George Washington and Kirkbride!  It was so great to meet you!  Hope to be back soon!)

Talking to students at A. Vare school in south Philadelphia

It struck me to see this message echoed in scientific literature.  What I tell students is that this concept of “disability as difference” is something to strive for.  Indeed, critics of Mr. Mottron’s commentary point out that there are many families who think autism is not a powerful gift, but rather a daily challenge.  A good friend whose son has autism once said to me, “Stop talking about this ‘autism community.’ If there is such a thing, I want to cancel my membership.”

I get that.  On the other hand, if we can inch back those walls that clutter our own minds–just a smidge!–we will really begin to see change. (I often point out to students that even Sesame Street contributes to this, with their whole “Pick out the thing that doesn’t belong” exercise!)  Striving for this perception at least points us in the right direction.

All disability isn’t merely a difference like race, culture or religion.  It’s just not that simple.  But just as we were taught from the get-go to categorize things and to feel sorry for people who can’t do things like we can, we have to counter this mentality with the idea that sometimes disability is something to be appreciated, something that adds to our society’s mosaic in a positive way.

This is what we try to convey within Arlene On the Sceneand within our free school presentations.  Responsibility for changing these perceptions and expanding the meaning of disability lies squarely within us.


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