OPINION: Autism should not be considered a disability

RORY MOORE, Photo Editor

When I filled out a job application at Dallas College last year, I was asked if I had any disabilities.  Autism was one of the disabilities listed since some consider it such. Some even consider it a mental illness.  

It was a little insulting since I am on the spectrum and have never thought myself to be disabled cognitively or challenged intellectually.  While autism is a neurological diagnosis, it is not the same as a mental illness or disability.

I’m called neuroatypical, the basic definition for people with a brain that functions differently than usual.  Common signs of autism include difficulty communicating or understanding the emotions of others, having a compulsive interest in a particular topic or topics, being upset over unexpected or sudden changes if it involves a routine and preferring to be alone over being around other people.  

These signs can be seen in children and adults, and I displayed many of them at a young age.  

What makes autism different from severe mental illness is that people who are autistic are not detached from reality and don’t have hallucinations that impact how they act toward others.  However, autism can affect behavior or how you respond to a problem.  

Autistic people can have mood swings without being hallucinatory and violent, usually in response to a particular situation.  Still, it isn’t a violent and sudden mood swing like someone with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia might have.

While I’ve had mood swings before, I’ve never reacted by being violent toward people, and I’m certainly never detached from reality.  As a child, I didn’t talk until I was 3 years old, and I refused to interact with other kids in preschool. I wanted to be alone all of the time.  

With the help of therapy, I overcame these obstacles and learned to interact with others.  I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the support I got from my parents and therapists.  Thanks to them, I can work with others regularly and try new things I wouldn’t be comfortable with initially — like being the photo editor of The Et Cetera. I still want time alone when needed, but who doesn’t?

Rory Moore holding a bunch of awards
Rory Moore wins 10 awards at the TIPA (Texas Intercollegiate Press Association) competition in Ft Worth, TX 2023. (Contributor)

Other people on the autism spectrum have learned to overcome their obstacles and have gone on to do great things.  For example, Temple Grandin also didn’t talk until she was 3 years old and had to be taught how to wait her turn playing board games as a child, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a successful author and speaker on both autism and animal behavior.  

Academy Award-winning actor Anthony Hopkins revealed that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism spectrum disorder.  He discussed some of the learning differences he had in his childhood along with his obsessive thinking and challenges in keeping friendships with others.  Nevertheless, he said his diagnosis allows him to analyze the characters he plays while also calling it a “fancy label.”

Like Grandin and Hopkins, autism has influenced the career fields people choose.  Many autistic people have exceptional knowledge of facts and figures, pay close attention to detail and complete tasks accurately.  A lot of people with autism spectrum disorder are employed in the art industry because of these skills, given that it involves a strong sense of creative thinking.

I believe my autism has been a strength as a photojournalist.  I recently won 9 state awards at the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association convention for my work in the Et Cetera.  The awards came in almost every photo category, and all were first or second place.

 If autism enables me to be the best I can be in my work, then it certainly should be considered a strength, not a weakness. I consider it a part of who I am, and I never let it keep me from living everyday life like anyone else. 

So the next time you meet anyone with autism, don’t be so quick to judge. They could be talented in ways that no one else is.