The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

The Chomp

The Student News Site of Gateway Regional High School

A Difference, Not a Disorder: The Autism Spectrum

Inspiring stories of influential individuals who used their autism to change society for the better
Lilac Hadar, CC
The rainbow infinity symbol that has replaced the puzzle piece as the symbol of autism

It’s Autism Awareness Month! Autism means different things for different people. As we know, the autism spectrum is vast, and not every person diagnosed is the same. Those who are high-functioning autistic tend to appear like everyone else. They lead average lives and only feature some neurological differences that make them unique. Those on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum usually encounter more neurological obstacles, have a harder time communicating and navigating social skills, and sometimes need help completing everyday tasks. 

Nevertheless, these people are human beings who can do more than many expect of them. They are different and in a beautiful way. The neurotypical response is to brandish anything “other” as disordered, and it is this tendency that perpetuates negative stereotypes and treatment of others with differences.

So, to celebrate Autism Awareness Month and to support that it should not be characterized as a disorder, but rather as a difference, here are the stories of a couple of influential individuals who achieved greatness despite having an autism diagnosis. In fact, one may argue that they achieved greatness because of the unique differences that autism afforded them.

Temple Grandin is known for her books on autism, specifically how autism affects individuals positively or negatively, but she is also known for her extensive work as an animal behaviorist who designed and helped to fix and improve the humanity in the cattle for slaughter industry. Those who only knew of her achievements would have no idea that she is indeed autistic. 

When Temple was a small child, she didn’t talk until the age of three and had behaviors that were developmentally misaligned. Seeking to figure out why their daughter was acting differently than her peers, her parents took her to a doctor who explained that she had autism and should be institutionalized. Knowing their daughter and her high IQ, her parents completely refused to send her away, instead enrolling her in numerous private schools where she was accepted and embraced. 

As she finished school and moved into her career, Temple used her unique intellectual abilities like thinking visually and having a photographic memory to create prototypes of equipment that would be more morally sound in handling livestock. She faced numerous obstacles in the process, including gender barriers, but persevered nonetheless. She has also written numerous research books on the topic of autism including Thinking in Pictures, The Autistic Brain, and Visual Thinking. 

I am different, not less.

— Temple Grandin, autism advocate

Dan Akyroyd, who many know from his starring roles in cult-classic movies like Ghostbusters and My Girl, is another influential and adored individual who many wouldn’t assume to be on the autism spectrum. Dan was diagnosed with Tourette’s when he was twelve and often felt uncomfortable in social settings, depending on his humor to cope.

He was only diagnosed in the 1980s after his wife encouraged him to see a doctor for some of his symptoms. He was ultimately diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a former name given to those on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Those with Aspergers tend to have trouble relating with their peers, experience repetitive behavior, and tend to zero in on a couple of niche interests.

Personally, I’m glad that Asperger’s was removed as a diagnosis from DSM a number of years ago because the pejorative connotation of the word “syndrome” that often appeared next to it is typically associated with a disease or a disorder, and those on the autism are not diseased or disordered; instead, they are simply wired differently. Therefore, they should not feel marginalized as a result of the majority using unfavorable, dismissive, or defeatist adjectives to regard them just because they diverge from neuro-normative behaviors or have a range of differing needs. Different doesn’t equal less than. 

Akyroyd thanks his Aspergers for inspiring him to create the blockbuster film, Ghostbusters, which ended up becoming a huge and adored franchise: “One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement…that’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.”

As evident by these two individuals and so many more, autism is not a limiting disorder as so many believe. It is not even a disorder at all. Society needs to change the script–instead of thinking that differences, which many on the autism spectrum encounter, inhibit their lives, consider that they enhance them. If Temple Grandin didn’t think in her own unique, creative way, and if Dan didn’t have a fascination with ghosts and law enforcement, they wouldn’t have been able to create such incredible careers and do such good for society. 

So, don’t let April be the only time you think about and celebrate autism. And do not let your view of or language used about autism be limiting. Instead, look at your autistic friends, family, peers, and even strangers with the utmost admiration and encouragement that they deserve, and be sure to remember: “I am different, not less.”

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About the Contributor
Laurel Rose Barrett
Laurel Rose Barrett, Editor-in-Chief
I'm Laurel Barrett, and I am in my second year as the Editor-in-Chief of The Chomp! I am currently a junior, and my favorite subjects are English and Science. My hobbies are reading, writing, and creating artistic projects, like posters and models. I am a lawyer in Mock Trial, a President of Book Club, and I am an NJ-JCL Executive Board Officer. I'm also a member of Latin Club, NHS, World Language Honors Society, and Gateway's Mentor Program. Additionally, I am the social media manager of a NJ non-profit called P.U.R.E. Girls, Inc. and enjoy volunteering at Angels Community Outreach. I plan to become a patent lawyer in the future and practice somewhere in New England. I look forward to interviewing featured teachers, writing opinion pieces, and creating book reviews for The Chomp this year! If you want to join our team, feel free to email me @[email protected].
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