What Does It Mean to be “On the Spectrum?”

by Diane Sandifer 2 Comments January 3, 2012

As we try to raise the awareness level of special education and mental and emotional needs in the world of public education, we must draw attention to what it means to be on the autism spectrum—especially on the highly functioning end of the spectrum. You see, looks can be deceiving. A highly functioning autistic person who has Asperger’s can look “normal” yet come across as rude and disrespectful. On the contrary, these highly sensitive individuals truly have extreme difficulty with social interactions and often are paralyzed when it comes to interacting with others.

In public schools, we often don’t know what to do with these highly intelligent students who are “not less but different.”

They make good grades, but their suffering can be tremendous. Because of their feeling frustrated and isolated, they often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. If we look close enough, we find that they are “twice gifted.” They have intense interest in a particular subject. They may, though, have components of obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, attention deficient disorder, and other emotional needs.

They are complex. They simply want to be loved and accepted.

As we provide each child with a free and appropriate education through our local public education systems, we must open our eyes to all kinds of special needs, including autism. Asperger’s didn’t even come on the radar as a diagnosis until 1994; it appears that there are many college-aged students who fall somewhere on the spectrum…we just didn’t know what to call it as they came through school. Teachers spend incredible amounts of time with their students; with increased awareness, hopefully our educators will help both students and their parents in identifying these extraordinary individuals if indeed one happens to be in their class.

The Missouri Association of School Boards took this cause on as an initiative a couple of years ago.

If other organizations place emphasis on the same as well, we can provide insight for all to understand what it means to be on the spectrum. At times, I think we might all be, afterall.

Additional Resources:

Autism Society: For individuals “On the spectrum”

Time: Girls on the Spectrum

11 Questions Students on the Spectrum can ask their College

How TV Shows try (or choose not) to depict Asperger’s Syndrome

Video: Asperger’s Syndrome Documentary

Categories: LeadershipTags: , , , , , ,
2 Comments to “What Does It Mean to be “On the Spectrum?””
  1. avatar Martha White says:

    This is truly fascinating! I cannot imagine the frustration experienced by not only the person diagnosed but with family members dealing with the syndrome from their perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  2. avatar Sandy Vanags says:

    Having a niece with Aspergers’ I can say it was the teacher that brought it to the attention of her parents. Because of the teacher’s awareness of what was going on, they were able to get her help at a very early age. She is remarkable, at the age of 8 years she just amazes me.

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