By: Meghana Reddy
According to the Center for Disease Control, the current rate of autism in the US is 1 in 88 children. This number is only set to increase, as diagnoses become more frequent and awareness is raised about the disorder.
Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others, and is also associated with rigid routines, repetitive behaviors, and difficulty with change. As a result, the social, emotional, and sensory challenges an autistic person may face are unpredictable, and outbursts can occur at inopportune times. And unfortunately, because there are many people who are not educated about autistic behaviors and its challenges, children with autism are often considered "problem” children.
If an autistic child is taken to a grocery store, she may start throwing things, walking in circles, or screaming in the middle of the aisle. Parents receive stares and disapproving looks, as if they we were the ones who caused the behavior, by not keeping good discipline and allowing their child to run “wild”.
But what most people don’t realize is that this is normal behavior for autistic children; autism does not result from bad parenting. The public perception that there is something wrong with both parent and autistic child is not fully informed, nor properly aware of the circumstances behind the disorder. Parents of an autistic child, by going to the grocery store, may be actually trying to give their child exposure to real-world experiences, teaching them how to interact with other people in a more constructive way. They may have to pick up after the child in the process, paying for any dropped produce, cleaning up spills, or apologizing for their child standing in the way of another customer.
But in doing so, parents are attempting to work around the difficulty their child may have with social interaction, and instead, provide them with a sense of normalcy by doing activities that other families do. Rather than hiding or being ashamed of the fact that their child has autism, they take the child out to explore, and make small steps towards gaining new experience and adjusting to the environment around them.
However, no matter how good the intentions and how effective the work of the parents may be, they receive disapproval for their child’s autistic behavior. Something that shouldn’t be viewed as poor or unacceptable may make them feel embarrassed, or even ashamed to have even brought their child along with them. The negative public perception of the parents and their autistic child may discourage many from continuing with excursions outside of the house or daycare. As a result, they prevent the autistic child from having enriching experiences, out of fear for what others may think and say about their child, and about them.
But with a bit of perseverance, patience, and a better public understanding, this negative perception of autism and its behaviors can change. If we encourage more parents to accept the challenge of managing their children and being willing to go on excursions outside to the store, or to the zoo, or to museums, (anywhere!), and the public is willing to accept and tolerate these autistic behaviors, we can create a happy, safe, and more wholesome lifestyle for many autistic children.
Center for Disease Control. 2013. "Data and Statistics." Retrieved Sep 15, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.
Seattle Children’s Hospital: The Autism Blog. 2013. “Autism and a Trip to the Grocery Store.” Retrieved Sep 24, 2013, from http://theautismblog.seattlechildrens.org/autism-and-a-trip-to-the-grocery-store/