I’m generally an optimistic person. But I always like to be aware of the potential downside of things — particularly when it concerns laws and regulations related to people on the autism spectrum. Which brings me to a law that went into effect this month in Virginia. As of July 1, Virginia drivers with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or others on the autism spectrum can volunteer to have an autism code embedded on their driver’s license. Ditto for non-drivers who carry a state identification card.
The new law has raised concern among some drivers and disability advocates who worry about the potential for discrimination from law enforcement in the future.
The idea is that if stopped by law enforcement, displaying the card with the autism designation might keep police from misunderstanding any unusual behavior the person might display. My fear, however, is that a law meant for good could easily be used for ill. There’s no evidence that adults on the spectrum are better or worse drivers than the rest of the driving population — nor that they have more or less accidents. But the new law has raised concern among some drivers on the autism spectrum — as well as disability advocates — who are worried that they might face discrimination from law enforcement in the future if their licenses bear such a designation.
Fortunately JP’s Law, as it is sometimes called, is voluntary. It is up to the individual driver to opt-in. Pam Mines says her 9-year-old son with autism was the catalyst for her pushing Virginia lawmakers to adopt an optional autism code that could appear on state identification cards and driver’s licenses. For Mines, it was a pre-emptive strike in case her son ever encountered law enforcement and could not articulate his disability.
Yes, I’m seven seasons late to the beauty that is CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. The comedy won one of its lead characters, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a third Emmy this year in addition to his wins in 2010, 2011. Yet I’ve just discovered what a gift the show is to the community of people who have an interest in Asperger Syndrome. It is aspie cool to the nth degree.
Actor Jim Parsons portrays Dr. Cooper, a gifted, gawky and genuinely lovable geek who exhibits some of the traits that can be associated with Asperger Syndrome: aloofness, inward focused, eidetic memory, discomfort in unfamiliar settings, the love of routine. The genius of the character and his place in the show is that he has a strong social group of peers who help him navigate the tricky world of interpersonal relationships. Oh that such social groups were the norm, not the exception.
Finding the right social group, one that you not only fit into but that makes you a better person, a higher achiever and moves you ever further toward self-actualization is sometimes an elusive goal for the person with an Asperger diagnosis. One-on-one relationships often can be easier than navigating group situations. Yet depending on one person for the bulk of your social activities can be limiting and disappointing, especially if schedules don’t mesh and opportunities to get together are minimum. That’s true even for people not on the spectrum and those who have no trouble meeting and connecting with new people.
A number of groups have sprung up to help anybody and everybody make social connections. Several are geared to young adults. Meetup.com is a great starting place to find an affinity group. Perhaps you love anime or videogames or cycling or outdoor adventures. Whatever your taste, there seems to be a Meetup to suit it. There’s even a specific Asperger group Meetup. Just go to the website, put in your Zip Code and you can find a group that gathers near you. Beyond that, churches, community groups, workplaces and the pages of your local newspaper or favorite local news website often provide information about activities and social groups that might appeal to you.