It’s a global condition that is affecting more and more families every year, yet there are still many misconceptions about autism. Sarah Morgan, for My Weekly Preview magazine, chats to those who live with autism and who are working to shed light on this misunderstood condition.
It’s not often that Sesame Street, Power Rangers, the Israeli Defence Force and Microsoft all have something in common. But despite their obvious differences, they all share a relatively new appreciation and support for what has long been a misunderstood condition – autism.
It’s a complicated condition, and is defined as a developmental disorder, which manifests as impaired or restricted social interaction, communication and behaviour. It is best summed up in cases where those with it have great difficulty forming relationships and communicating with others, but it stretches way beyond that.
Some may be aware of other traits made famous by movies such as Rain Man, or records of great feats of memory and skill, and it’s these aspects that are being seen as valuable assets to both the people with the condition and society in general.
Statistics show about 230,000 Australians have the condition, but because the condition is on the rise, that number could be much greater. Recent advances in awareness are also beginning to highlight those people who have often been overlooked.
Recently, producers of both Sesame Street and Power Rangers have announced they are introducing new characters to their shows – characters who are on the autism spectrum. In recent years the Israeli Defence Force has started actively recruiting soldiers on the autism spectrum for their selective intelligence squad, named Unit 9900. These soldiers, who previously would have been made exempt from military service, are now head hunted to serve thanks to their heightened perceptual skills.
In the business world, Microsoft, German software company SAP and American companies Freddie Mac and Walgreens are corporations who are also actively sourcing employees with autism to work on special projects.
It all paints a very different picture from when children with autism were instantly sent to institutions or shut away from society upon diagnosis. But despite these efforts there is still a long way to go.
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