It is Autism Awareness Month and the University of Central Florida is reaching out to all its students.
The UCF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities serves individuals that range from low functioning to high functioning based off of the autism spectrum. With many misconceptions surrounding autism, many local individuals living with autism continue to erase the misconceptions around them.
Mark Niedermann lives with autism and works as a program assistant at UCF CARD. Niedermann believes that there is a lot more education around autism, but even when he gives speeches on research people change the conversation to his situation.
“People will say to me; you don’t have autism. ‘You look at me in the eyes, you seem to be very expressive’ and all these things,” Niedermann said. “Because when people think about autism, they think about Rain Man.”
In the midst of Autism Awareness Month, Dr. Terry Daly, director of UCF CARAD, said the misconceptions range from lack of awareness to poor language students use in research papers.
“That happens a lot at UCF. Students writing papers, who are writing about people with disabilities will say, plagued by, or afflicted by, or struggling with, and that’s for those individuals to decide if they feel that way,” Dr. Daly said.
Dr. Daly said the misconceptions can be hurtful to individuals living with autism, especially if they do not think it’s a problem for them.
“That’s for those individuals to decide if they feel that way. Some of these individuals are very vocal in that they don’t view autism as a curse or a disorder. It is a way of being for them, it is not something they view as problematic,” Dr. Daly added, “So they prefer for us not to use those kind of terms when describing them, particularly in print. They get offended particularly fairly easy on that.”
With so many misconceptions about autism, individuals inside UCF CARD tackle them with strides based off of their situation.
One employee, Alex Rodriguez, lives with autism and is nonverbal. Rodriguez is accompanied by his companion Gabriel Mouyal, who says he continues to see strides in Rodriguez.
“Now we're getting to the point where he can work two and a half to three hours straight without needing a break,” Mouyal said.
Niedermann said seeing people make strides inside UCF CARD is worth all of his time.
“When you see a parent communicating with their child in a way you never thought was possible, it's life-giving,” Niedermann said.
While UCF CARD continues to assist individuals in the Orlando community, individuals living with autism will continue to change the way some people think.
Originally published April 18