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Student organizes conference to dispel autism stereotypes

By | April 10, 2012 | News (2)

Psychology graduate student Joey Wagoner’s brother, Colby, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. At the time Wagoner didn’t know exactly what this meant, but it soon became apparent Colby would not develop normally.

Inspired by his brother’s condition, Wagoner has set up numerous autism clinics to teach mental health professionals how to diagnose and treat autism. He has set up several health clinics in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

A few months ago, after talking to several friends, Wagoner concluded that if 100 people were asked to define autism, they would give 100 different responses.

He decided to set up the event “Perspectives of Autism” to be held at the Satellite Student Union Thursday at 7 p.m. The event aims to show that autism is an experience, not just a label.

The event will include speakers with autism as well as teachers, siblings and clinical professionals who will give their perspectives of the condition. Parking and refreshments will also be provided free, and doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

“Most people have no idea what it’s like,” Wagoner said. “I have no idea what it’s like to understand this idea of being labeled by society.”

One in 88 children is diagnosed with autism in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism is defined as “a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships.” April is autism awareness month.

The CDC recently released a report detailing how many families are “burdened” with autism. Wagoner thought using the word “burdened” was a strange way of phrasing the report, as he never considered his brother a burden.

“I found that was a very interesting phrasing, because they were phrasing it very negatively. It’s like something that is negatively put upon you. I think that really adds to some of the negativity.

“As a brother of  [a person with autism] I understand it’s not an easy thing to deal with,” Wagoner said. “I had to re-adjust most of my childhood based off my brother’s diagnosis because we couldn’t do a lot of things. I’ve never considered my brother a burden on myself and my family hasn’t as well.”

Because of his brother’s condition, Wagoner and his family feel they have become better people. They feel they are more patient, understanding and able to view circumstances from multiple perspectives.

From Wagoner’s perspective, clinicians and parents must work together to improve the symptoms of their autistic children. “With autism, it’s something you are going to have your whole life,” said Wagoner.

“If someone walks away with more knowledge about this, that’s awesome,” Wagoner said. “More than anything, I’d really hope that they will just walk away with the understanding that autism isn’t this label we attach to people with certain behaviors. It’s this experience within itself.”

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