Reflections on Change

Dania Jekel, Executive Director, and Sonia Janks, Contributing Editor
Blog Post

As AANE marks its 25th anniversary, I am struck by how my own perception of autism has changed over the years. During this past cold and rainy Memorial Day weekend in Boston, I decided to re-watch some classic films from my youth. For no particular reason, I watched the 1967 film The Graduate. The movie I remembered seeing at age 16 was about the affair between Ben and Mrs. Robinson. But what I hadn’t recognized before was that the character Dustin Hoffman played was someone who I believe had many autistic traits. I’d be curious to know if others share this analysis, but from my perspective, the actions, voice, boundary & social confusion, and dislike of noisy and crowded situations led me to this conclusion. The irony, of course, is that Dustin Hofmann, probably without awareness, portrayed a believable person on the autism spectrum, years before his famous, but far more limiting role, in Rainman. (For anyone interested in the current thinking about authentic autistic representation in television & film, don’t miss our summer conference on June 26!)

This is only one way we can see that the recognition and understanding of autism has evolved tremendously in the past 25 years. The combination of expanded knowledge in the field of neuropsychology with the speed and reach of technology to share information, ideas, and experiences, especially through social media, has had an astounding impact. Famous individuals like Amy Schumer discussing her husband’s diagnosis and Elon Musk who disclosed having Aspergers publicly, and the creation of television shows like Everything’s Gonna Be Okay have moved the discussion of autism to the mainstream and shifted people’s perceptions (on the whole) toward greater understanding and acceptance.

And yet, we know we still have a long way to go. It is still hard to get a diagnosis if you are an adult, under- and unemployment is still pervasive, housing and appropriate support is lacking, many schools are not yet knowledgeable or responsive to a student on the spectrum, and there are a lack of therapists who truly understand how to effectively treat coexisting mental health conditions. So AANE’s work continues.

To reflect further on our 25th anniversary, I recently had the privilege of interviewing members of the community who have been involved with AANE for a long time–some since the very beginning. We wanted to know what they have learned over the years, what made a difference in their lives, what advice they would share, and how they feel the perception and understanding of autism has changed. I hope you take the time to read all these interviews we are sharing in the June newsletter–voices of community members that reflect personal changes in the context of a more enlightened social environment.

June 2021 Newsletter Stories

Reflections from the Adult Community: Adam

Reflections from the Adult Community: Caitlin

Reflections from the Parent Community: Stella

Reflections from the Professional Community: Dr. Carol Singer