Autism is highly misunderstood. There are so many myths that we could be here all day talking about them. The misconceptions about autistic people not being able to have empathy, or that they are violent, or intellectually disabled are so widespread that many people have no idea what this disorder actually entails.
But educating the public is a job that a number of dedicated organisations and individuals have taken on in recent years. With the hope of freeing us from false impressions and misunderstanding, they also reduce the chances that the parents of autistic children will be accused of neglect.
The National Autism Association (NAA) and Autism Speaks are two organisations that have made significant headway recently in promoting autism awareness around the US. The NAA refers to themselves as “the leading voice on urgent issues related to severe and regressive autism, safety issues, autism abuse, and crisis prevention.” They run a number of programs aimed at assisting autistic individuals with communication issues, provide wandering prevention tools for teachers, and help families with autistic children to receive financial aid so that they can get the services they so desperately need.
The Autism Society, another organisation whose focus is education and awareness, puts a great deal of emphasis on ensuring that first responders are properly trained in dealing with people on the spectrum. Because they describe their vision as “increasing the quality of life of everyone living with autism,” the Autism Society puts a heavy emphasis on inclusion. Because as many parents of autistic children have pointed out: .
However, in order for someone to be accepted, they must be understood. Which takes us back to the issue of education. Because autism is not the “standard,” and those affected often have issues with communication and social norms, they can seem “strange” and “different” to those who don’t understand autism. This in turn can translate into rejection and false assumptions about intellect or ability levels.
In addition to the frequent bullying and rejection that autistic children suffer, their parents face a whole world of painful challenges. It is very difficult to know that your child is suffering as a result of something they cannot control or change. But to know that you may have to face criminal charges, or worse – have your child removed from your custody, is beyond frightening.
Parents of wandering autistic children live with constant fear. Fear that their child will disappear, and that this will be the last time. That despite all the precautions, all the awareness, all the locks and bolts and alarms, one tiny mistake or oversight will cost them the life of a child they love.
Given the constant stress that these families live with, it should be a given that we would do everything in our power to support them, not to judge them. The parent of a wandering autistic child should be able to call for help whenever they need it, without the added fear that they will be condemned for it. We can only hope that the growing public awareness will help with this issue. If you or a loved one have a child on the autism spectrum, and you have been accused of neglect or abuse, contact us immediately. We can help you!