Keep Calm and Fight Stigma How Can we Work to combat the stigma of the people with mental disabilities such as autism?

Stigma is a negative stereotype that is often used to form prejudice. We currently live in a society where everybody has stereotypes within them. We use these stereotypes often in our lives and to be quite honest, if we had to make new decisions all the time life would be pretty difficult (Rössler). Stigma is very often generated towards mentally disabled people. This stigma can come from a lack of exposure to the mentally disabled people but also it can be possible that people are not informed enough about disabilities. We can also try to open up to people or families with the mental disabilities and offer help to them. So how can we work to combat the stigma of the people with mental disabilities such as autism?

One way to combat the stigma against people with mental disabilities would be to be open up and look for help. Stigma can very easily be formed when the truth is left a secret. If people are to communicate and reach out for help, the stigma that builds doesn’t really kick in. One example is about a Korean mother who lives in New York and who had her son diagnosed with Autism. The grandmother of the boy “refused to discuss her grandson with relatives or friends”(Baker). She thinks that hiding the fact that her grandson is autistic will cause less problems, however, she is doing the wrong thing. “She’s kind of hiding,’ Ms. Ko said” (Baker). Hiding from society is a mistake. Many try to avoid or conceal that someone has autism but this is the wrong thing to do. Combating stigma starts with coming to terms that somebody has mental disability and opening up to normal things in life. Lots of parents of mentally disabled children receive sayings at church or sports practices like “you should go test your child out for autism” or something like “something is wrong with your child.” After they hear this, parents often leave that activity and move onto a new one. Many also fear that having someone with a mental disability will have a huge affect on house values leading to the idea that the house rules need to change. Dr. Grinker who is a doctor and a father of an autistic daughter, who is now 21, writes that “ if I had a child with autism, there is no affect on our house value, on the ability to make friends and on an ability to get promoted at work” (Baker). Telling people that a child has autism instead of hiding away from life is the right thing to do. It will help fight stigma as people will know that the child has a condition rather than stigmatizing him. Stigma will always exist, however, we can only fight it if we stop fearing it. If we can learn to talk about our problems to others so they can possibly help and to live life normally even though mental disabilities have barriers, we will be successful in combating stigma

“If I had a child with autism, there is no affect on our house value, on the ability to make friends and on an ability to get promoted at work” (Dr. Grinker).

Another way that we can combat the stigma against the people with mental disabilities is to inform others and spread awareness. Before this paper I had very little knowledge on the mentally disabled. Even though I have seen and talked to some people that are not 100%, I seemed to lack a great deal of knowledge about this. Stigma can often form because we often have very little experience with mentally disabled people. We can maybe feel frightened or alarmed when we see people with mental disabilities as their behavior can often differ from what we are used to which can create this idea of a negative stereotype. Too many people build stigma because they have no knowledge about the mentally disabled. Like me before this paper, people who are not informed are usually the ones that generate the stigma. One example in the article “The Stigma of Autism: When All Eyes Are Upon You,” shows indirectly that many people are not well informed on mental disabilities. Why do we have to look when someone on the street is acting up because of a mental disability? The stigma may not be looking but it’s the start. One parent on the West Bank reacts “[I]t is very difficult to walk with your disabled child in the street. Everyone leaves what they are looking at or doing and starts watching your kid. You feel like you are the star of a puppet show” (Sarris). If we are informed than we as people should know better. Just because somebody has a mental disability, there is no need put up a crowd in front of them. If people would understand mental disabilities, we would know better than to stare. I am not going to lie about this but I used to stare. I also did not know the difference between a mental illness and a mental disability. The less we are informed, the more we use our stereotypes to make decisions. These stereotypes are often misconceptions so your gestures can come out as rude or disrespectful. So how can we inform ourselves about the mentally disabled? The most simple way to learn is to ask. Asking questions to people who know and understand mental disabilities would be a great source to ask. However the best way to inform yourself would be to interact with them face to face. If you shy away or just stare, you get nothing out of it. Informing yourself doesn’t only help you but it really makes a difference especially as it aids in combating stigma.

The final strategy, which I think is the most important for combatting the stigma is to get people to interact more with the mentally disabled. Most people cannot really connect and understand the mentally disabled because they haven't really interacted with them. The stigma comes from the people who have not been exposed to the mentally disabled. This is proved in the novel the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon. In this novel, an autistic boy named Christopher Boone finds his neighbor's dog dead with a pitchfork stabbed into it. After the neighbor finds out about this, she calls the police and the police come to the scene as soon as possible. Christopher is still with the dog, so the police rush to him and right away begin to question him. Because Christopher is autistic, he doesn’t like all the questions and tunes out by groaning with his head on the ground. The police realizes that Christopher is lost and feels disrespected and so he grabs him by the arm and lifts him onto his feet. The officer asked “[D]id you kill the dog?” Christopher dislikes being touched so he hits the police officer. “ The policeman looked at me for a while without speaking. Then he said, ‘I am arresting you for assaulting a police officer”( Haddon 8-9). The fact that he arrests Christopher is because he feels he is in danger and he doesn’t understand that the boy has a mental disability. The police officer is an example of someone who doesn’t have enough exposure to these kinds people. This is also how the stigma is formed. The people who are not used to this experience are often the ones to make a harmful stereotype. The police assumed that Christopher was a danger so he arrested him. If it was Christopher’s father that met a boy who was at a crime scene, he would sure know how to react and to respect his needs. The difference between the people who are exposed to the disabled and the people who are not exposed is the stigma. The only way to combat stigma is to close that gap and to get people to interact more with the mentally disabled.

So what will we do next? If we can open up to families or people with mental disabilities we can support them and help them achieve confidence even with the stigma. We can contribute to treating the stigma if we inform and learn about the mentally disabled so we are familiar with what kinds of ways the disabled act. Maybe the biggest reason however is the lack of exposure we have to mentally disabled people. Stigma occurs really because we are not used to these experiences everyday. So what will you do? Will we take down the stigma that surrounds the mentally disabled or will you let the stigma take down society?

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Created with images by stevendepolo - "Thank You for Taking a Stand Against Stigma! Sign Stamp Out Stigma Grand Rapids May 22, 201011"

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