Stigma is a horrible and 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 where you and your child have been judged, ridiculed, criticised and even ostracised. This type of behaviour can be extremely hurtful and 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 “labelling” 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 either. If they truly do have ASD, then they will continue to experience the symptoms and difficulties that come along with this diagnosis, but 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 we can do this, first 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 ASD can be positive and 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, 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 behaviours”. 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 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, 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?
- When something falls within the area of special interest for the person experiencing ASD they can show strong concentration and passion towards this. This can make them hard workers when placed in the right career.
- People experiencing ASD can have a very keen eye for detail and can be somewhat perfectionistic. This means that the work they produce can be of a very high standard.
- People experiencing ASD can also be very creative thinkers and the world needs more people who ‘think out of the box’ to progress.
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 change as they see someone else being judgmental and then pass on the knowledge you gave them. More and more support is becoming available because of the wonderful work people have done to advocate for ASD but further support and better overall attitudes towards ASD is required so the more you advocate, the closer we get to a more accepting and supportive culture for ASD.
For further information on ASD and reducing stigma, please see the links below.