MTV dares to impress with “I Have Autism.” The presentation details the lives of three very inspiring young men who all have differing presentations of what has been described as “pervasive developmental disorders” or “autistic spectrum disorders.” (Netherton, Holmes, & Walker, 1999, p. 77) As a group, their autism appears to separate them as different from their peers, mostly because the disorder makes it really difficult for them to connect with the world around them. All of them share a desire to be like “typical teenagers.”
Jeremy, 17, was diagnosed at the age of 3 with severe autism. He has never been able to speak nor has he had friends like normal teenagers. This non-verbal form of autism allows him to make sounds, but he is unable to form sentences. He also struggles to control his facial expressions and his body movements. Overall, Jeremy’s biggest challenges are communication and socialization.
At the age of 15, he began to use a letter board to communication, and over time, they came to find that he was essentially a normal 15 year old kid inside. When he could finally communicate, he told his parents that he wanted to make friends his own age. They decided to try something different at the age of 17, namely, employing technology called a LiteWriter. The LiteWriter represents his last opportunity to communicate with his peers and classmates before he graduates from high school. The LiteWriter has a voice that reads out what’s typed. As a result of his advances, made possible by the LiteWriter technology, Jeremy invites a number of his peers over to his home for his 18th birthday party. He totally didn’t know what to expect at his party, as he had only seen teenage parties on television. Although Jeremy still has some significant challenges to overcome, I think has made great strides toward achieving autonomy as it relates to communication and socialization.
Jonathon, 19, is an Artistic Savant. His case presents us with many “typical” Autistic traits coupled with extraordinary artistic talent. 10% of Autistic people have some form of special skill, and it is evident throughout the presentation that he is very passionate about his art. His language is somewhat impaired, making conversation very difficult. He has a very hard time with abstract thought, and has a great deal of trouble articulating the specific feelings that his is having. He is very sensitive to sound, and often wears headphones to block out extraneous noise that overwhelms him. Jon says Autism means “Brain is not working.” Lately, he has been experiencing sudden and uncontrollable outbursts that are having a negative impact on his ability to express himself through his art. Beyond his art, it is affecting his overall quality of life. He seems to be progressively degenerating, having the outburst with increased intensity and frequency. His medical team has not yet determined the source of the outbursts, but his father is working on proactively working on helping him control his emotions. His lacks of ability to control these emotional outbursts are his biggest challenges, and the issue remains unresolved at the end of the segment despite extensive testing.
Elijah, 16, has Asperger’s Syndrome. The primary difference between Asperger’s and autism is the level of functioning. Asperger’s is described as a “high functioning form” of autism. Elijah does not see Asperger’s as a disability, and rightfully so… he’s a really smart kid. Most people who have Asperger’s have average or above average intelligence, but like Elijah, many have trouble with social interaction and communication. As a child he repeated phrases, and was very difficult for outsiders to understand. He wants to be a comedian, but he is worried that if he tells people he is autistic, they might not like him. He is writing his own original comedy material and attempting to develop his comedy talent. Because Elijah is worried people will think he’s weird, he has a great deal of stress regarding the disclosure of his condition. As a result, I think Elijah’s biggest challenge is self-esteem, or self confidence. His success in the Las Vegas comedy festival really helped him take positive steps toward being comfortable with his condition. I was very surprised (and impressed) that Elijah was able to overcome his fear of people judging him. The end of the segment suggested that he intended to start every show with a joke about Autism, and as a result, I would consider his biggest challenged resolved!
As a future counselor, I found this particular video to be really inspiring from a number of different perspectives. First, the presentation gives us a basic understanding of how different each individual case can be. I have formed the opinion that regardless of how many PDD cases I encounter, I really need to wipe my slate clean and access each case objectively.
Through the first segment, I would have expected Jeremy to have to most difficulty overcoming his condition. In the end, I think he was the one of the three that managed to cover the most distance and make the greatest strides to achieve his goals. This really challenged my lower expectations for Jeremy, given his lower level functioning. I really appreciated the integration of technology into his development. I found Jeremy’s story to be the most inspiring because they really challenged him to confront his fears… and ultimately he overcame his trepidation. I was really impressed, and very inspired by his story.
Netherton, S. D., Holmes, D., & Walker, C. E. (1999). Child and adolescent psychological disorders: A comprehensive textbook. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.