By Joana Enriquez
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact. It ranges from severe to sometimes undetectable, and now no longer up to date, Aspergers Syndrome. Bonita Vista High School, like other Sweetwater Union High School District schools, provides help for students with autism and other developmental disorders in order to prepare them for adulthood.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), roughly 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD. Of those diagnosed, about 80% received special education services for autism at school, or have had an ASD diagnosis from a clinician.
“[Services like] the four year extension depend on the intake process of whose identified. I have had some kids that are going to college now,” school psychologist Elisa Lujan said.
Regardless of the cognition spectrum of individuals with autism and an availability of online resources, there does seem to be a sense of discrimination against students with severe autism. When asked if he wanted to be associated with the word “autism” John Doe, a Bonita student with Aspergers, immediately answered ‘no.’
“His peers make fun of the severely autistic people at school, so he does not want that connotation around him,” sibling Mary Doe said.
Besides the special education program, the transition program and speech therapy, Rochelle Braithwaite, Bonita Vista’s language, speech, and hearing specialist, formed the peers group. This on-campus support group is targeted towards helping students with autism and their parents.
“The parents are learning about how to help their kids with social relationships and how to deal with the stress,” Lujan said.
Outside of the school system, parents of children with autism and other developmental disorders form support groups in the South Bay area. Some groups are larger like Autism Society: San Diego and the Motiva Parent Facilitated Support Group, others are smaller and built on parent networking.
Laura Cervantes, a Resource Parent with the San Diego South County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), shared about her experience in a local support group for mothers with children with disabilities.
“The purpose of the group is to network. It’s a safe place to talk about your concerns,” Laura Cervantes said. “It’s something essential, to connect with people who are going through the same thing that you are going through.”
The regular health curriculum on campus teaches about developmental disorders and organizations like Autism Speaks spend millions of dollars a year on “Autism Awareness,” but awareness on the issue does not extend much beyond people who are personally impacted by it.
“[People] should care, but they don’t because they focus more on themselves,” J. Doe said.
There is a call for developmental disorder awareness and acceptance coming from families and peers of students with autism. Diego Cervantes, a senior student with an older brother with light autism, shared his point of view.
“I feel like all of what the [students] hear are the moanings, and that’s not who they are. That’s how they express their pain. Most are kind and sweet, and are just children at heart,” Diego Cervantes said.
*John and Mary Doe are false names used to protect the identities of two students at the request of the family.