I have been thinking a lot lately about how the media portray and report on stories about individuals who are on the autistic spectrum, and how news stories reflect the autism world. I write many autism based news stories myself for Autism Daily Newscast while also conducting online searches for interesting stories within the autism community. What instantly strikes me though is the phrase that seems to be commonly used, namely that of "autism sufferer" and "suffers with autism."
I very much dislike the word "suffer" and its association to individuals on the spectrum. This conjures up images of bleakness and more importantly I feel creates a link to the medical model, making autism appear as a disease which it is not. Autism is a neurological and developmental 'disorder' in which it is all persuasive. Therefore, yes it is disabling, but it is not a disease.
Autism is entwined into an individual's life but this does not equate to suffering. It is simply a different way of life.
My little boy is on the autistic spectrum and although I cannot truly speak for him as only he knows how he feels, I do feel that he is a happy, energetic and fun-loving little boy. We have our daily challenges it is true but we adapt and make changes, we enjoy life. He is a little boy who is on the autistic spectrum; he is not an "autism sufferer."
The person should be viewed individually and holistically with their needs put first, not the disability. 'Autism sufferer' I feel strips away the individuals personality and they become simply a person who suffers from autism; the autism is made to define them. We need to step away from this stereotype. We need to think about all that can be achieved and not dwell upon negativity which I feel the phrase 'autism sufferer' promotes.
Many people dislike the term 'autistic individuals' but I do not have a problem with this when put into context although I do prefer the term, 'individual with autism.' Words are powerful tools and we need to remember this.
However what I am trying to say is that we need to focus upon the positives. This was shown over the weekend by Anna Kennedy OBE who with her charity, Anna Kennedy Online had organised the show Autism's Got Talent, which showcased performers, all of whom were on the autistic spectrum.
The press release states:
"The performers, which consisted of singers, gymnasts, actors, musicians and dance troupes, flew the flag for autism and showed what people with autism and Asperger's syndrome are capable of."
This was a celebration and helped to raise awareness of what individuals on the spectrum can achieve.
Children on the autism spectrum when all said and done are still children, they play, laugh and have fun just as any other child.
We need to end the negativity, take away the 'suffering' label and celebrate achievements. We simply don't do that enough.