The United Nations has declared April 2nd World Autism Awareness Day, and with its prevalence - which was recently updated by the CDC to occurring in 1 in 59 live births in the United States - UMBC has plenty to celebrate among 14,000 students and ~3,000 employees.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear in early childhood and affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with others to varying degrees. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum condition". There is no known single cause of autism, and early intervention leads to significantly improved outcomes. Some of the associated behaviors include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities. It bears repeating that a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors, or just a few, or be subject to additional diagnostic criteria. The diagnosis is based on the totality of behaviors and their severity*.
What can you do if someone discloses that they have autism?
- Don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what the individual's particular challenges related to autism may or may not be. Every individual on the autism spectrum is different
- Listen for why they might be disclosing to you. They may only want to be better understood. If they have academic concerns related to their autism, they can work with Student Disability Services for specialized support, beyond existing resources for all students like the Learning Resource Center. For campus work concerns beyond what Human Resources routinely covers, the Employee Accommodation Request process begins online.
- Consider your role when information is shared with you. As a peer, friend or colleague, ask them before disclosing to others. As a supervisor, you might have a more nuanced discussion about if and how they might want the information shared with others if they are not requesting an accommodation.
- If you are unfamiliar with autism, learn more about it**.
Feel free to extend the celebration by exploring the following links:
More locally, we have a student forming a self-advocacy group. If you are interested in connecting, stop by Student Disability Services in Math/Psych 212 for a flyer or email firstname.lastname@example.org for contact information.