December 23, 2020

“Becoming Aware of Autism”

“Becoming Aware of Autism”

By Oluwatoni (Toni) Latona

Now more than ever Cheyney University needs to care more about how we communicate with those that are different. Often when we speak to somebody who has a condition that is unfamiliar, we worry about saying the wrong thing. This happens a lot to people with disabilities, especially those with autism. To help bring awareness to the autistic spectrum on Cheyney’s campus, I decided to write this post.

To begin, I want you to imagine a baby boy named Michael. He was born with two eyes and two feet. He had control over all the functions of his body. Unfortunately, at the age of two, he stopped talking until he was four years old. This may seem random but this happens to many children in America before they are diagnosed as being autistic. Not until these children are tested and diagnosed by a doctor do their parents fully understand why they don’t speak or act in a traditional way. Even after their diagnosis, there are still so many questions and uncertainty. The main thing to know is that people with autism are just like you, they just interact with the world in a different way.

Anyone can be autistic; it is not something that can be seen just from looking at someone. You must educate yourself, listen to them, and be patient. Autistic students like Michael usually begin facing challenges from their diagnosis immediately. This happens around middle school where most autistic children cannot do what others are doing because of certain problems that result from being misunderstood. These challenges grow throughout puberty, high school, as well as living environments like Cheyney University where awareness about autism and students with disabilities is not very common.

In order to better interact with autistic people, we must better understand them. To begin, autism is not just a one size fits all definition. It is actually a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, as well as speech and nonverbal communication. The three levels of the autistic spectrum are (1. high functioning, (2. middle-level Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), and (3. Severe autism).

High functioning in autism, especially in children, means that they can retain memory in school when they learn but lack social and communication skills. Middle level, (PDD) in the autistic spectrum can be both high functioning and low functioning however, it depends on the challenges that individuals have in their daily routines. This happens especially when among school-aged students how have difficulty maintaining their focus. Severe autism is the biggest challenge. These students are often treated differently than other students in their schools. For example they do not go ride on the same buses as other students nor do they always receive the same level of academics instructions other students.

In a number of studies focusing on the experiences and support services provided to autistic college students, it was noted that high numbers of autistic individuals reported being bullied and marginalized on campus.

Personally, my being a high functioning autistic student at Cheyney has been really challenging sometimes. During my freshman year, I felt like I was constantly misunderstood and ignored by many students, professors, and staff. I felt like there was a wall of understanding and acceptance between us.

The only differences between a traditional college student and someone with high functioning autism (like myself) the only difference between them is their level of observation, social sensitivity and their speed of their words.

Because with those with high functioning autism interact with the world differently, we often times need more patience and flexibility from our professors in order to complete our school work. I will say, things have gotten so much better since my freshman year. Once my professors took the time to understand to better understand my accommodations and my peers actually took time to listen instead of making fun of my speech. I was able to make many friends at Cheyne; especially through soccer games.

However, I must admit that the way students and professors interact with those with students with autism and disabilities could be better. Of course, students with autism and other disabilities like me, could also take deeper action by letting others know when we are overwhelmed or stressed out. In the end, there needs to be more communication and awareness training offered to the professors so that they are more willing to accept our accommodations, which will increase our self-esteem, motivation and our potential for success.

The reason for this article is to inform the Cheyney campus community that everyone can learn about how to better support our students with autism and other learning abilities. If you ever have a group project that involves a student with autism or with some other learning disabilities, remember to have bit more patients. You may have to listen deeper to understand their point of view.  But at the end, that they are not that much different than you. Just as students have different levels of ambition, just as students at different levels of ambitions, intelligences, and motivations, just so to people have different levels of learning.

In Conclusion, I want everyone to know it is not a taboo to have autism or some other learning disabilities. I see it as just another way of being as well as learning. I especially want my peers to know that students with autism (Like me) are as capable as anyone else. We just need the time to be understood.