What I am finding more and more as I talk to people, is that the general public does not have a very clear understanding of the Autism Spectrum. I find that most people's reaction to those with PDD NOS or Aspergers are that they classify all under "Autistic." Now labels are just that labels, but with labels in the general public comes stereotypes and misunderstandings. Often those like my son are thought to be Autistic or people question that he is on the spectrum at all. Often the misunderstanding is that either he does not display typical symptoms or that all his symptoms or behavior are because he is "Autistic." Most of the time neither are the case. I have heard the same from many parents with children on the Spectrum. The battle for awareness and understanding always seems to be there. The misconception of bad parenting or behavior instead of understanding of Spectrum issues. Every child on the Spectrum is unique and different. Not one can be put into a box.
The media has recently put so much more information out about the Austism Spectrum through characters in shows such as Parenthood with Max. Max has Aspergers, and the show does a great job portraying the similar struggles and strengths that someone with Aspergers goes through. However, that is not everyone with Aspergers. The subjective nature of the Autism Spectrum creates in itself a lot of misunderstandings and misperceptions.
As of right now the Autism Spectrum generally consists of 3 diagnoses. There are others that are more rare. However classic Autism , Aspergers, and PDD NOS each has its' own set of criteria that are similar in nature. The distince differences are what differentiates between such as speech delays and having 1 or more of repetitive behaviors, social delays, and restricted interests to varying degrees. This on a whole is not understood.
In addition, in 2013 the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM V)is coming out with new criteria, that as I understand it is lumping all 3 of these under the Autism diagnosis with varying degrees of severity. This will create more confusion to the general public. Because for a long time the 3 diagnoses tried to distinguish themselves from each other will now fall under the same name. Here is a relevant article to read on the topic.
Does all of this matter in the grand scheme of things? Well, yes and no. In our family our main goal is to nurture and support the unique personalities and strengths of each of our children. Does that need a label? NO. What does the label do for our family then? It helps us to understand our child better from his perspective. It helps us push to educate ourselves and advocate for him more. Is it different from our other children, slightly, but the goals are the same. God made each of our children uniquely, and each of them is who they are meant to be. We continually will fight for each of our children's best shot in life.
The label also gives us a reason and a purpose to help educate others in the general public. This pushes us to educate them so that others will understand and accept the uniqueness of children on the Spectrum. It helps us to encourage those around him to not just put him in a box, but to reach out and try to understand who he is not just that he is on the Spectrum. He is a person with a personality, with strenghts and weaknesses just like the rest of us. They may call it a disorder, but there are a lot of disorders in the world. Everyone will be labeled in some way. It is up to us as parents and as a family to make sure that label does not define all of who he is. He is an amazing, special, unique, funny little boy with the world ahead him. I am not going to let the label limit him in any way but for him to use it as a strengthening characteristic that makes him even more able to overcome obstacles in his life.
Our mission is to spread support, awareness, and acceptance of Autism Specturm Disorders. Join in! Get to know those around you in your community. Take an interst, have a conversation. It isn't so scary once you get involved.
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"I am Jake: My Life on the Autism Spectrum" supports this very converstaion. What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder? Is everyone the same? From one boy's perspective (Jake's) ASD celebrates strengths and supports weakeness in a way that helps him overcome obstacles.