The 20th Century saw social psychologist, George Herbert Mead, introduce the social theory that “the self” is not a birth given thing, but rather the product of collective social interaction. In other words, when we say “I” or “me” we are actually talking about someone molded by social experiences with other people. In his view, we are a “looking glass” for each other. However, Mead probably was not thinking about disabled populations when he developed this theory. The philosophy of the looking glass changes the moment we are looking into the mirror of disabilities. Autism’s mysterious advent has managed to change our medical, sociological and neurological landscapes.
George Herbert Mead
(image courtesy of Wikipedia)
“When we tell certain communities that we are building a group home we are met with a staggering amount of resistance.”
As of 2012 it is estimated that 1 in 88 people are somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. That means that it is very possible that most of us have interacted with someone on the Autism Spectrum. As the numbers for autism and other disabilities continue to rise, the need for more intervention-educational programs, supportive organizations, employment placement and residential programs will also rise. As a result, disabilities have called into question the level of community acceptance. Do we embrace these populations or do we disassociate ourselves? Do we merge or marginalize these populations? Unfortunately, in many cases, the latter tends to be true. According to Veronica Federiconi, Executive Director of Autism Services, community integration with disabled people is more a matter of legal concession than local spirit. A 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Act protects disabled people from housing discrimination. “In many cases, when we tell certain communities that we are building a group home in their neighborhood we are met with a staggering amount of resistance,” says Veronica.
NIMBY, an acronym for Not In My Backyard, reflects the attitude of many community residents about their neighborhoods being earmarked for group home integration. Protests frequently involve concerns over personal security, declining property values, a generalized threat to the residents, or a damaged community image. Research conducted in the past gives no merit to these claims. A 1993 study conducted by George Mason University found that the fear of group home integration is not founded on any substantial evidence. Forty-one residents of group home neighborhoods and thirty-nine residents of control (non-home) neighborhoods responded to a survey about their impressions of how a group home impacted on their neighborhood one year after its development. Nearly 75% reported a “negligible impact of the group homes on things such as property values, neighborhood crime, resident safety, and distressing incidents in the community.” The remaining residents were not even aware of a group home in their community.
As of 2008, Autism Services, Inc. has established eleven residential sites for people on the Autism Spectrum. Raising awareness is an integral part of helping residents welcome and understand others unlike themselves. The organization produces several annual events to bridge the divide between typical populations and autistic populations. “Each year our individuals with autism do a re-enactment of popular stories such as The Wizard of Oz, Grease, and The Lion King at the Depew High School. The event is always open to the community and it gives people a chance to see just how capable our performers really are. It is always a colorful event, and the audience gets bigger every year,” claims Veronica Federiconi.
Autism Services places a special emphasis on the arts, including visual, musical, and performing arts. Artwork, created by program participants, travels to various galleries in the Western New York area before making its signature exhibition called Arts Work, at the end of each year. In the past five years, Arts Work has been shown at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Righteous Babe Record’s Babeville, among others.
“The nature of the human epic has been and continues to be learning to accept and even appreciate the broad diversity between people,” added Veronica. “In the past, we have struggled with ethnic and racial diversity. I believe this era is one where we are going to learn how to broaden our human potential in other distinctions.”
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
The Next Paradigm Shift
Artists on the Spectrum are poised to change our world perspective.
1 in every 88th person has autism. You may be one of them.
by Rudy Simone
An essential guide for employers, HR professionals, counselors, job coaches and people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Music by people on the Autism Spectrum.