Defending the neurodiverse | The Triangle

Defending the neurodiverse

Henry Gray: WIkimedia Commons

It’s amazing when you look high up in our government how much garbage you can find.

We have Betsy DeVos, who doesn’t know the very first thing about education as our education secretary, we have Sean Spicer, whose unfriendly demeanour is the last thing you want as the official press secretary, and now, as of Feb. 10, we have Tom Price, a man who believes that vaccines cause autism, as our health secretary.

Yes. We have a health secretary that believes, among many things, that vaccines cause autism. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization — the three major authorities in health in the United States and across the globe — have all agreed that there is absolutely no link between vaccine ingredients and autism.

Price is backed by six percent of Americans and another 52 percent of Americans are uncertain if there is a connection.

This belief of the correlation between autism and vaccinations is not a matter of opinion. It is a fact.

You cannot become autistic or anything on the spectrum (including Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS and childhood disintegrative disorder) because of a vaccination. And yet some Americans are either unsure or dead certain that vaccines cause autism.

And that’s not even the worst of it. According to a study conducted by Global Strategy Group and Widmeyer Communications for the National Alliance for Autism Research, a majority of Americans are aware of the existence of autism, but are not aware of how it impacts those affected physically.

It’s not even confined to autism. All across the media, you will hear jokes about other mental disorders/disabilities such as down syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia, all of which are very serious and, depending on the severity, life impeding.

I know this because I am one of these people who is affected by a mental disorder. I am one of the more than 3.5 million Americans who are on the spectrum.

When I was younger, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, later specified as Asperger’s syndrome. I had to work hard to learn numerous things that come easily to those not on the spectrum, such as social skills, proper motor coordination (for example, writing by hand) and personal space when speaking with other people. While others might look at it as a curse or an impediment, I see it as a blessing. I would never change my condition for anything on this Earth, even a chance to know what it is like to exhibit proper social skills without constant internal second-guessing.

Asperger’s has given me the opportunity to open my mind to new possibilities, to explore perspectives and ideas that not many people would even dare to go. It has also given me an awareness of others like me, even here at Drexel University.

A month into my first quarter at Drexel, I received an email from Gerard Hoefling, the director of the Drexel Autism Support Program, requesting that we meet so I could potentially join. DASP is an academic and social support program not just for those on the autistic spectrum, such as myself, but for those with any learning or mental disability.

DASP has, over time, become my third home, and I am fortunate to say that most of the people to whom I’ve become close at Drexel are from DASP. DASP is also launching Neurodragons, a group composed of those both neurotypical and neurodivergent, whose primary goal is to spread the word on neurodiversity and increase awareness of mental health.

DASP is doing what the government should be doing. Government officials like Tom Price should be defending the rights of all neurodiverse Americans, rather than preaching the constant rhetoric that having a mental disorder is something negative. The government should be making mental health a high priority, instead of having only four mentions of autism on the White House website, in comparison to the nearly fifty references during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Our government should be sticking up for those who have been long discriminated against, and should be providing even more opportunities for those with a mental disadvantage to play on an equal playing field. DASP and the Neurodragons are doing just that. The Neurodragons will stick up for those who are misunderstood. The Neurodragons will make mental health a high priority and a talking point throughout Drexel. And, most importantly of all, the Neurodragons will take out the political trash.

Tom Price and the current leaders in government still haven’t made research on mental disorders a higher priority, especially when considering that the number of children diagnosed with autism has increased by 78 percent in the last 10 years. If they’re not providing funding for locating the causes of these disorders, imagine how much time and money Price and the Department of Health and Human Services are going to invest into increasing awareness and understanding of these issues to the general public?

You’ve guessed it. None.