Doug Maynard is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin. This month, he delivered a lecture at the University focusing on the importance of understanding autism and making spaces more accessible to those on the autistic spectrum. According to a report by the Badger Herald, Maynard’s lecture was part of the Wisconsin Idea, Past and Present Lecture Series, which focuses on the University of Wisconsin’s relationship with the people of the state.
In his lecture, Maynard noted that although the purpose of the Wisconsin Idea is to serve the entire state, the University has historically ignored people with disabilities and conditions such as autism. Developed by former UW President Charles Van Hise, the Wisconsin Idea is a plan for the influence of the University to extend to the entire state through courses and programs accessible to everyone.
To be more inclusive of those with autism, Maynard believes the University of Wisconsin must ensure that there are interactions between people with autism and “neurotypical” people (i.e. people without autism).
“My approach with regard to autism, taking an interactional approach, is that its behavior that disrupts or breeches common sense,” Maynard said. “We could say that it makes the familiar become strange because this behavior can threaten our notions of common sense.”
In short, Maynard encouraged neurotypical people to become more patient and understanding of those with autism and their unique and unconventional perspectives.
“A job of the university is to teach individuals how to learn about differences by crossing over into the unfamiliarity of another person’s world,” Maynard explained, “and I just think that we’re not on equal terrain if were wanting to do this, there are people who occupy privileged statuses.”
Maynard stressed that understanding of those with autism is more crucial now than ever, given that autism diagnoses are on the rise. He added that, when he asks his students whether they know of anyone with autism, most of the class raises their hands, a stark contrast with ten years ago, when almost no one did.
Maynard added that the UW has a responsibility to support the growing number of students with autism, and that experts should focus on ways to improve the diagnostic process.
“Autism isn’t going away, autism diagnosis is not going away, how can we make it a better process that deals with the individual child,” he said.