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Let the autistic child grow up into an adult

Disability Articles

When people think or envision autism, they are most likely to imagine a child, rather than an adult. Since autism develops during childhood. the society has developed overwhelming tendency for depicting autism as a disability of childhood. Adult people with autism thus have to face an additional barrier of invisibility and loss of dignity. Why should we and how can we deny existence of an adult person with autism...?

As the autism awareness campaigns are at their infancy but ironically the people portrayed are also shown as infants. The main reason behind infantilization of autism is that children have been always been used as tools of pity especially by the charitable organizations. Infantilization of autism is perpetuated by a cyclical interaction between parent-driven autism societies, autism fundraising charities, and mass media portrayals via the entertainment and news industries.

Let us pick up any fictional book, television program or a movie screenplay that depicts autistic characters. We would find 90% of these characters to be children and even if they are shown as grown ups, they are childlike. They are dressed up like small children, their hair are done like children or they would be shown eating lollypops. A recent example we can see in movie Barfi where a big grown up girl is shown wearing frocks with pig tails having pink ribbons on them. This is nothing but focusing on the emotional aspects of disability and manufacturing of pity just for sale in the market! Society thus brandishes autism as pertaining only to childlike. Though entertainment industry is getting matured yet its representation of autism is mostly a frozen one.

Since parents are very much stressed out on their part due the condition of their child, they tend to be over protective and want their child to remain small forever and to remain under their care as they fear exploitation of their child since these children are more vulnerable to abuses.Infantalizing the child is a kind of defense mechanism for the stressed out parents. But a very bitter fact is that the parents are not going to be there for their child forever. These children have to grow up and need to be taught to take responsibilities of many kinds. Parents apart from searching treatment of their child also search for socio-emotional support for themselves. The cycle of infantilization comes full circle with the mass marketing of expensive therapies.

Thus unfortunately the parents of autistic offspring promote children, rather than adults, as the face of autism. Charities limit much of their discourse to child-based references, and the entertainment industry restricts autistic characters to mostly children. According to a survey in the next 15 years, more than 500,000 autistic children will reach an age of adulthood in the U.S. alone. And so would be the case with our country. In the absence of adequate data we are worse off in estimating the difficulties to come. These autistic adults, like all adults, would require sources of income and supportive relationships. Vocational support would also be required for many as a means of easing transitions from a dependent living to an independent living as well as educating employers. There would be increasing demands for accommodating post secondary environments as young autistic adults could enter colleges and universities.

If we have a closer look we would find that the current employment rates for autistic people are dismal. Autistic adults not only fare poorly in employment but also lag behind those with other developmental disabilities. Employers lack the knowledge and resources to support an employee who has autism. This leads to the belief that autistic children must either be cured or suffer a lifetime as unemployable burdens. Nobody realizes that a capable autistic adult needs appropriate workplace supports...No such thing is presented anywhere. Scarce resources remain undirected to unidentified needs. Though efficient, an autistic adult would be at high risk to lose his job due to his lack of eye contact, "inappropriate" attire, and reticence in interviews. Though, pushed beyond their ability to tolerate unexpected changes, they might howl in a meeting with clients. and this brings an end to their employment with the company. Subsequently they might lose jobs for various minor infractions because of their failure in establishing positive relationships with seniors and coworkers. The fellow workers would not shun them out of cruelty but they lack a context for unconventional behaviors of these autistic adults. They might be described as rude, unfriendly, odd, demanding, or childish. If the coworkers are predisposed to recognize and understand autistic traits in adults, they might responded differently. These autistic adults rarely achieve financial independence. Not only the adults with autism are losers but also the employers lose their unique perspective that might find a lucrative niche market. Coworkers and clients lose the opportunity to more fully understand and experience the full range of human variance. With each rejected autistic adult, an uncalculated wealth of assets is lost.

The earlier the parents reach an important conclusion, the better it would be for everybody: Their autistic children are becoming autistic adults.

The doors closed to these adults are not locked by intentional disregard, but by ignorance due to marginal exposure. Autistic adults are everywhere, but remain missing from the scene of autism support groups and charity websites, the characters of popular books, movies, and television, and the events recorded in contemporary news articles. Consequently autistic adults remain are missing from the productive workplace. Businesses are unaware of the existence of autistic adults. These adults may fear disclosing their diagnosis to potential employers because of the harmful stereotypes they hold, which are caused by society's infantilization of autism.

Abha Khetarpal