Even with only 20 people present, the message of “The AU-Talk” did not go unheard in the Gentile Gallery at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“The AU-Talk” was a student-led presentation addressing the specifics of autism. Later, one professor shared his own journey of raising children with special needs.
Senior Dawn Richards opened the night with a story about her brother George, who has autism, then broke down four different categories to describe the disorder: the general information, the biggest challenges for people with autism, the typical behaviors for people with autism and the different ways they communicate to others.
According to Richards, autism spectrum disorder is a communication and behavioral disorder. People think they are not smart, she said, but that is not true. She then related a story about helping George study for a test in his art class by making animal noises to help him remember certain terms, demonstrating the he just learned in a different way.
As Richards explained, since autism is a spectrum disorder, there are varying degrees of functionality, mainly high- and low-functioning autism. This allows for many different forms of autism that are as unique as the person his or herself. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” Richards said.
The biggest challenges for someone with autism, said Richards, are mainly communication and eye-contact. This can make it hard for them to express their love to those around them because they have a different way of expressing it. “We need to go out of our way to try and understand them,” said Richards.
Because people with autism have trouble communicating how they feel, they have different social behaviors, said Richards, who explained that people with autism sometimes walk away from conversations when bored and make little to no eye-contact to better focus on what a person is saying. They also find comfort in routine, she said.
Richards also shared tips for interacting with people with autism. She said that one should speak slowly and should refrain from figures of speech so as not to confuse them. It is also good, she said, to find out what they are passionate about and avoid touching them because they cannot anticipate the action, and it might scare them.
After Richards spoke, David Craig, who holds a doctorate in English, took the stand to describe his experience with raising three children with special needs: two who have autism and one who has Down syndrome. He answered some questions Richards prepared as well as some questions from the crowd. Craig said that his children indirectly taught him how to raise them, and he learned many virtues through them.
This newfound information opened some students’ eyes. “I learned a lot because I didn’t know a lot about autism and Down syndrome prior to this,” said senior Rebecca Haven, saying that it was helpful “especially to kind of look back on some past relationships.”
This talk was sponsored by Residence Life.
On Thursday, Feb. 21, at 5 p.m., there will be a meeting led by Student Council for Exceptional Children in Egan 216 to raise awareness about children with special needs. All majors are welcome to join.