Monmouth's Ask the Doctor May-June 2020

What Autism Awareness Means to Me By Timothy Rohrer

My name is Timothy Rohrer. I am a young adult with high-functioning autism. I’ve gone through challenges such as a speech delay, behavioral differences, learning difficulties, sen- sory sensitivities, and a tic disorder. I’ve also gone through social isolation by neurotypi- cal/non-disabled people during my teenaged years. Having autism doesn’t hurt because it makes me unique. But what does hurt, is facing social isolation by neurotypical/non-dis- abled people. When many of us think of Autism Awareness Day, we think of it as a day in which most of us wear blue shirts, decorate the walls with puzzle pieces, honor famous people with autism such as Albert Einstein or Greta Thunberg, and advertise slogans such as “I Support Autism Acceptance”, “Choose Kindness, Acceptance, & Inclusion”, “Different not Less”, and “Light it up Blue”. People with autism still face social isolation even though we do things to support them. Doing the things as listed above is not enough to make society more inclu- sive of those with autism. I certainly think it’s awesome to do things like wearing blue shirts and decorating the walls with puzzle pieces to honor those with autism. But as an advocate of disability inclusion, I think society needs more education all year long about Autism Awareness in order to make these things more meaningful. AutismAwareness means different things for each individual with autism. AutismAware- ness can mean being employed to certain jobs, being given the opportunity to help out in the community or specializing in physics or environmental science. But for me, Autism Awareness means being given the same friendship opportunities as neurotypical/non-dis- abled people. My main goal is to make sure that the non-disabled community gets educa- tion about how to fully understand challenges that those with autism face, how to include them as a friend, and how to communicate to their level. First off, in order to break down the barriers that socially isolate those with autism from non-disabled people, we have to teach children at a young age about autism, its challenges, how to communicate to their level, and how to include them as a friend. The main reason why neurotypical/non-disabled people seem to exclude those with autism from social in- teractions is because schools lack educational programs to teach students about Autism Awareness. Teaching children about the challenges people with autism face, how to com- municate to their level, and how to include them as a friend should be taught in classes and assemblies as much as we teach them about anti-bullying and drug awareness.

K I D S ’ H E A L T H & C A M P

Being socially included by the non-disabled community is a fantasy for most people with autism. Making that fantasy into a reality is possible if we work for it. As of for me, I am an author of a pamphlet designed for younger children called “How to be a Good Influence to People with Disabilities”. My pamphlet defines what a disability is and contains information about how to include someone with a disability as a friend. It has been seen and used in some places all over the world. Locally, I have had the opportunity to share my pamphlet with several groups in New Jersey and I presented my pamphlet to my local school districts. When I presented my pamphlet to children in the local districts, children asked me questions about what it’s like to have autism and how it felt when people socially excluded me. I heard news after I presented about some of the students inviting people with autism and other disabilities such as Down Syndrome & Muscular Dystrophy to their birthday parties and to playdates. Children inviting people with autism and other disabilities to their parties, playdates, and other social gatherings is what true inclusion means. My pamphlet is a great resource for children to learn from and I hope more schools in the United States and other countries can present my pamphlet to their classes. Other than my pamphlet, I believe that schools should come up with lesson plans, books, games, and skits to provide to children which will help them understand Autism Awareness/Inclusion. I want children to be taught how to approach someone with autism, invite them to sit with them at the lunch table, play with them during recess, contact them, and to hang out with them at movie theaters, restaurants, parties, etc. I attend a young adult youth group through a Presbyterian Church in Allentown, NJ. I explained about how difficult it was for me to be socially excluded. I also spoke to them about my pamphlet. A lot of the members offered their phone numbers to me and gave me the chance to hang out at restaurants, concerts, movie theaters, and other places together. I am thankful to have them as my friends. I hope more social and religious groups can offer friendship opportunities to those with autism and other disabilities too. In conclusion, being socially included by non-disabled people as an autistic person to sit at their lunch tables, text/call each other, see a movie together, grab a bite to eat, see a concert, and other forms of entertainment is what Autism Awareness means to me. I hope we can create a future in which schools and parents can educate their children about how to socially include people with autism and most of all, people with other disabilities too!




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