By: Erin Adams, Sullivan High School Freshman
Autism forms a beautiful and distinctive mind. It’s what gives the world a different shape to unique individuals and is often misinterpreted and viewed as a flaw. When in reality, it can be the exact opposite of that.
April was Autism Awareness month, encouraging Benjamin Passer, a diverse learning teacher at Sullivan High School, and Sean Summerslests a 17-year-old teen with autism to bring more awareness on this topic.
According to Passer one of the most common misconceptions of people with autism is “that they can’t have friends or are not capable of having emotions.”
When asked how an autistic mind differs from a non-autistic mind, he replies, “Someone with autism once told me that they see the world differently. They described it as watching a movie, but they can see all the individual frames separately.”
Passer said one thing to be aware of is that “People with autism might display some self-stimulatory behaviors.” He explains, “These are called ‘stims’ and are normal, but they can be unusual or alarming to people who don’t know about them.”
Summerslets shares what living with autism is like.
“Autism varies widely, much more widely than people realize.” He goes on, “It’s like a spectrum of skills that themselves are a spectrum of skills, which can vary down to specifics.”
When asked how his life differs from a non-autistic person, he said, “I’m not sure I’d know or if I can know. Nor where I draw the line there is some ambiguity. It’s unclear what things are caused by me being autistic and what’s caused by other things. But, I feel this question is less about how my life is different as an autistic person. But more about what it is like to be autistic. That question can’t really be answered. I don’t know what it’s like to not be autistic. So I wouldn’t know the difference.”
“Being autistic often means being an outsider. There is a cliche, describing being autistic as being an alien,” Summerslets said.
Gerrit and Ry, both people who can relate to Summerslets’s challenges with autism, add to his perspective. “Everybody is different. The film or TV series with an autistic character that you have seen almost certainly does not represent autistic people you may meet, just like neurotypical characters probably do not represent neurotypical characters you meet. Give anybody who wants you to get to know them the chance to do so, autistic or not,” Gerrit said.
Ry followed up Gerrit’s previous statement. “If you look at autism a certain way, people tend to think that autistic people are like the movie ‘Rain man’ but not all autistic people are like that.”
They said, “Everyone has different types of autism. And different levels of autism. So it just varies of what type of autism you have.”
People with autism can be just as capable, intelligent, and deserving of the same privileges neurotypicals possess. There are many different variations of autism, and a lot of the time people with autism are stereotyped and labeled as non-functioning or dense when in actuality, they can hold the same level of intelligence any of you are capable of.