So, I have just read an article by Stephen Fontenot in UTD Today discussing whether you can reduce biases by educating people about autism. Three groups of people were used.
One group was shown a video about autism and how to socially interact with them. Another group had training about mental disability but autism wasn’t mentioned and the final group received nothing. The groups biases were then tested. It was pretty much what you would expect, with the first group showing less bias.
Except that they found it only went so far. The ‘rain-man’ belief of most autistics being white males with savant capabilities but unable to socialise, was present within all three groups.
I really don’t fit within that group, being an Asian woman, but the odd thing is that most of the time I have been told I ought to be the one to change. This study put the emphasis on the non-autistic people to change. If you think about it, why ask a person to fit in, when simple understanding and acceptance can make the difference.
I once helped out with riding for the disabled. I had a twelve year old down syndrome kid. He was lovely and there was more to him than met the eye. We had a laugh. They put him on the oldest, most plodding horse in the stable. The kid was trying to kick, but it wasn’t working. Now, I had taken lessons in this stable and I knew that once this horse stopped working there was no way he was going to do anything but a slow plod. He was lazy. However, I also knew that he could shift.
They had given me a short whip, nothing that would hurt the horse, but I knew from experience that he would behave better if he knew I had it. So I showed it to the animal. He moved after that. They actually took the whip away, and tutted at me. That got me thinking. Why?
You see in lessons you work on balance and getting yourself and the horse to work in unison. The kid I was looking after wasn’t thick, he wasn’t scared, he was just had down syndrome. We were chatting and he was having a good time, letting the horse trot and walk. Sure he had balance problems but he had been given an extra bit of kit to give him a handle to hold on to.
But the instructor wasn’t about having fun or even talking to me or the kid with anything like respect. He was seen as disabled and I was strange (at the time we didn’t know I should have been participating in ride, rather than helping out). They talked to us as if we were stupid. The kids smile faded. And I never went back. I didn’t care that it meant I wouldn’t be around the horses. I just knew that being around all those very helpful but bias people would be soul destroying.
That kid, I wander sometimes if he made it to his full potential or if he made it to the limits that had been placed on him. If I have been diagnosed at such and early age would I be studying for my PhD having run a business since I was sixteen? I’m not sure. I’d like to think, yes, but it may have been too hard to fight those who wanted to help. Who would have known best.
Maybe the study is right and it’ll take more than education to completely shift bias, but perhaps, if people could meet us autistics, and other disabled people, half way then life would be so much easier and far less isolating. I am an autistic, I want to be able to fit in but there will always be something about me, maybe if others can see past that something then I can exist within society instead of sitting on the periphery.