By Michael Rock
In the past week, several individuals with autism have gotten attention for their accomplishments.
Sixteen-year old Greta Thunberg of Sweden has made international headlines for her activism against climate change. On September 20, she spoke in New York City’s Global Climate Strike, which also had smaller rallies worldwide, ahead of a United Nations summit on the issue of global warming. Though she has experienced a great deal of online bullying for her disability in response to her activism, she has said that it has allowed her to think outside the box for solutions, and has called the condition her superpower.
Meanwhile, 22-year old Kodi Lee of Salt Lake City, who is also blind, rose to national prominence for his piano performances on the fourteenth season of America’s Got Talent, which led to his winning the season on September 18.
Other people with autism are also doing great things, even if they haven’t gotten as much media attention. These include nineteen-year old Elizabeth Wirth of Ida, Michigan, who was this year’s winner of the USA National Miss Michigan Teen, just as she has finished high school and prepared to start college, along with moving from the Teen to the Miss category in the pageant. Wirth has made it clear that she intends to use her public platform to educate people about autism and against bullying, which deeply affected her as she grew up.
Similarly, John David Hiatt of Bangor, Maine serves on the city’s school board and as Treasurer of Penobscot County. In addition to his autism, he has traumatic brain injuries from his childhood. He has discussed the discrimination he has faced as a politician and candidate with his disabilities, but has encouraged his supporters to remember that despite his social deficits, he is highly intelligent.
Despite the many challenges people with autism and related conditions may face, there is no reason to believe that they are incapable of amounting to great things. When we focus on the things they can do rather than what they can’t, we have a much greater opportunity to include them as much as possible.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.