A large contributor to depression and anxiety among those with autism is the apparent lack of acceptance that is essential for the human psyche to have.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines autism as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” This is the definition of a very complex disability that affects approximately 1 in 59 children, according to the CDC. What isn’t said is that “more than 70% of autistic youth have mental conditions, including depression and anxiety,” says Carla Mazefsky, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
There are many companies that are dedicated to helping autistic youth to better socialize and integrate into society. In these programs, teaching eye contact, social interaction and decreasing stimming (self-stimulating behaviors, usually involving repetitive movements or sounds) are some of the gestures that are focused on.
While these programs have many great aspects and have helped many children to better integrate into society and, therefore, with their peers, there are many people with autism who have expressed how hard it is to appear “normal” and just how stressful it is to always have to put on this façade. And honestly, I empathize.
We are taught from a young age about how being unique and different is something that should be celebrated, yet we immediately try to change and “normalize” anything that doesn’t match up to societal standards as soon as we see it. This needs to change, instead of trying so hard to force children and adults with autism to “blend in” to society, we need to instead teach acceptance.
As a society, from professors in college, to kindergarten teachers and parents alike, we need to start teaching acceptance to our nation’s youth. That way, those with autism will one day be able to walk around and feel comfortable and confident, not for who society wants them to be, but for who they truly are. Imagine how much progress an autistic child can make if they are focused only on bettering their education instead of focusing so much time on fitting into societal norms. As a nation, we must begin to change the way we view autism and learn that it is something that should be embraced.
Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin and loved for who they truly are. As a human being, there are few things as important to mental health as feeling accepted, safe and secure among our peers and loved ones. So, it is our duty as a society to make sure that every individual feel that they are enough just by being who they are. Life is hard enough just trying to be ourselves, let’s not try so hard to make those with autism be someone they are not.