Embracing Neurodiversity

Ryan Majerus, a communications student at UND, was diagnosed with Autism on the lower end of the disorder spectrum in addition to ADHD and Asperger syndrome. Missy Iio / Dakota Student

Missy Iio / Dakota Student

Ryan Majerus, a communications student at UND, was diagnosed with Autism on the lower end of the disorder spectrum in addition to ADHD and Asperger syndrome. Missy Iio / Dakota Student

Bilal Suleiman, Columnist

For Ryan Majerus, finding out he had autism came as a surprise

“I truly did not know I had a disability until like 5th or 6th grade,” Majerus said. “(My social worker) was the one that told me I had autism and that I was different.

Despite this revelation, Majerus still had dreams of helping others by becoming a doctor.

“But she (the social worker) is like ‘Ryan, you know that you have a disability. You can’t do those things. People with disabilities don’t get far in life. You would be lucky if you were to graduate high school,” Majerus said.

Majerus is a communication major at the University of North Dakota. He is identified to be on the lower end of the autism spectrum and is diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s. Despite this, it would be very hard to notice that he has a mental disability.

People labeled as being autistic often face a litany of challenges. Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. In addition, each case of autism comes with unique weaknesses and strengths.

Temple Grandin is a famous example of what someone with autism can achieve in life. According to her website, templegrandin.com, she was unable to speak until she was three and a half years old. She was considered weird and was teased and bullied throughout high school, only making friends with people who shared her interests in horses, electronics and model rockets.

Grandin is now a professor, inventor, best-selling author and a leading consultant to the livestock industry. Half of the cattle in the United States today are handled in facilities that she has designed.

Her story is a good example that people with autism may struggle in certain areas but have tremendous ability in other areas.

Understanding this, Ryan is a proponent of accepting others as they are.

“Some people view acceptance as toleration of someone who has differences. But acceptance is being aware of people’s differences, and acknowledging them, and not criticizing them or ridiculing them because they have it. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask,” Majerus said.

Autism affects each person differently.

“Every person can have different levels of autism,” Majerus said. “I couldn’t look people in the face. I couldn’t have a normal conversation. I was incredibly shy. I had absolutely no friends. I truly didn’t know how to act in social situations.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the universal authority in diagnosing mental disorders in the United States. There are many different criteria an individual must display to become diagnosed with autism. Some of these criteria include persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts and restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities, according to the DSM-V. The DSM-V goes on to detail more specific examples and diagnostic criteria based on the severity of symptoms.

Since each case of autism is unique, therapeutic resources must be tailored to meet specific needs for each individual. Different types of therapy “can include time spent in a developmental program, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, one-on-one or small group intervention, and parent delivered intervention,” according to autismspeaks.org.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a widely accepted therapeutic practice for autism. According to WebMD, ABA helps teach social, motor and verbal behaviors through observation and positive reinforcement. The best results require 20-40 hours of intensive ABA therapy each week, unfortunately making this type of therapy expensive.

Therapy and treatment are used to help a person with autism to navigate through life easier. As people with autism are skilled in certain areas, the goal of therapy is to help mitigate their weaknesses to allow their individual strengths to shine through.

“Because of how much help I’ve gotten, how much assistance I’ve gotten, I’ve become more attuned to people, like how they body posture, how they speak, their fluctuation in their voice, how they look at people,” Majerus said.

Bilal Suleiman is a Columnist at the Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]