Dear Editor:

During an observation at the Head Start center, I got the opportunity to meet with a young boy who is autistic and nonverbal. He uses picture cards to interact with his friends and teachers in his everyday life at school.

The rate of autism is increasing dramatically, so we are seeing more and more autistic children in our schools.

“The new estimate represents a 15% increase in prevalence nationally: one in 59 children from one in 68 two years previous. Nationally, one in 59 children has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder by age 8 in 2014, a 15% increase over 2012,” according to the website autismspeaks.org.

I believe that most people don’t understand autism or how to deal with it. I am writing this letter to change that.

There are certain behaviors that typify the disorder of autism. Some are hand flapping, touching, making noises, screaming, plugging ears, hitting, biting, rocking and having a very short attention span. Some common social challenges for the autistic child are inappropriate gestures, eye contact, facial expressions and tone of voice. These restricted and repetitive behaviors are what most people see and judge.

When people see an autistic child behaving inappropriately, they assume that this is a normal child that is misbehaving. Most parents of autistic children get nasty looks from other people. This puts the parents in a tough situation because most people judge them on how they are raising their child. Outsiders don’t understand that the child has a disability and cannot control his or her own behavior. 

Autistic children feel incredibly frustrated by their inability to communicate and connect with people. When outside their homes and familiar routines, the children feel stressed and anxious, so the unusual behaviors get worse. 

Sometimes, bystanders speak to the parents saying, “You need to get your kid under control. That child of yours needs to be punished or left home.” 

All this does is make the parents feel even more embarrassed and frustrated because no one understands the situation.

The public relies on educators to “fix” these children. It is not that simple. We are just beginning to understand autism. Teachers can help the children learn and guide the parents, but it will take time. A great deal of research needs to be done before autism will be understood and hopefully, cured.

In the meantime, I would like everyone to be supportive of all children who have a disability. I would like everyone to know that it is OK to be different. 

In the same way you would never judge a child in a wheelchair, a child who’s blind or a child who is hearing impaired, you should be considerate and kind to a child with autism.

Sincerely,

Jena Rudawski

Phelps