Both children and adults potentially have an equal vulnerability to disabilities. Me and my four younger siblings were all born with at least one disability, and these will continue to affect our lives until the time they end.
It’s true that every one of us with a disability (present from birth or later on) grows and/or gains more experience with time. As well, whenever it’s not known that someone has a disability (or if a passer by doesn’t understand the specific characteristics), misunderstandings differ depending on age. But despite these judgments being different it’s hard to say which situation is easier to be in. Though from my own experience (which is personal to me and not necessarily true of everyone) of having been both a child and an adult with a disability, I feel for a number of reasons that being in adult in this situation is harder.
This piece primarily discusses the situation of autism merely because that’s the disability I myself have. Yet other disabilities will get the equivalent amount of misunderstandings in different or similar ways.
In the case of autism with children I very often find that negative assumptions for meltdowns and for them needing very specific routine with things including meals and daily activities, tend to be misunderstood as behaviour problems or being spoilt. Of late I have heard many people ask parents “Does your child really have autism or is it just an excuse for poor behaviour”? Though children with autism are no more likely to have behaviour problems than any other child does, and if behaviour problems are present they will not be related to the child’s autism.
Adults with autism often get misunderstood as having behaviour problems too, except in the case of adults behaviour problems are more associated with being a criminal, or being a person who is rude or unpleasant. Just like children with autism, these adults are no more likely to have these unrelated characters traits than any any other person.
Something very concerning for adults with autism (as well as any other disability) is that they are not as protected as a child is in regards to their age. In most cases when a person misinterprets a child as having a behaviour problem they will almost always understand that the child is only young. Though with autistic adults a person who doesn’t understand their characteristics is far less likely to hold back all (or most) of their aggression. This can be from people anywhere in their daily lives to police officers.
When advocates campaign for law enforcement officials to have an understanding of how to treat a person with autism, it by no means says that being on the autism spectrum is an excuse to be intentionally aggressive, or to commit a crime. Indeed that would be another way of saying that autism is associated with behaviour problems, and as said earlier that is not at all the case.
However quite often the characteristics of extreme anxiety, difficulties with making eye contact (and my own glazed look in the eyes has made some assume that I’m intoxicated), not understanding other people’s feelings, and wandering around in public looking confused can give people a negative assumption.
Unexpectedly facing an officer or any person being aggressive towards you due to those involuntary actions is scary enough on its own. Though when you add any kind of anxiety disorder to that, and/or less skills than a typical adult in emotionally and psychologically coping with aggressive situations, it makes this even more frightening for the person.
In order to prevent situations like these occurring, the whole world needs to be better informed as to what the general characteristics of autism are, and to better understand how they differ from behaviour problems or from just being a rude and unpleasant person.
When a person with autism has a meltdown, doesn’t understand another’s feelings, or fiercely needs their routine in order to live their life healthily, it’s not done for the purpose of hurting another person or dominating them. A behaviour problem occurs when a child or adult knowingly (and with full awareness) does an action to hurt or dominate someone, as well as to get their own way when they do have the ability to act in a more accepted way.
In fact when I myself unintentionally hurt or alarm another person by my actions, I feel so upset and do all I possibly can to understand what I had done wrong. Mum is a good source of clarification for me in these situations.
It’s important for everyone to know that autism isn’t an excuse for poor behaviour (as a fair few people have negatively stated) and that behaviour problems are not in any way related to autism itself.
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From my personal perspective, everybody has different genetic appearances. No two sets of eyes, mouths or any other physical features look 100% the same. This is even the case with siblings who are monozygotic. So, therefore, identifying facial expressions is just as difficult a task for me as choosing a grain of sand, and then trying to identify that after it has been randomly mixed amongst billions of others in a box is.