Understanding autism

HAYS, Kan. (KSNW) — Kenneth Windholz is a psychology professor at Fort Hays State. He said autism can be misunderstood, because autism doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.

It’s called a spectrum, because there are varying degrees to how disorders impact individuals.

“We may see folks who just have difficulties maintaining eye to eye contact, for example. Or their verbal skills may represent repetitive sounds or repetitive words,” said Windholz.

Those with low-functioning autism, or severe symptoms, don’t have social skills, are more prone to self-injury, and may isolate themselves.

According to Windholz, no matter what end of the spectrum,  autistic people don’t process information in the same way as those without autism.

This is commonly seen in high-stress situations.

“Because the stress situation really increases their fear level, they may respond in ways that are native to them,” he said. “Rather than ways that they’ve learned to try to adapt.”

However, depending on what end of the autism spectrum a person is on — Windholz said individuals are still capable of functioning in society, “including privileges such as driving, voting, taking part in public representation and so on.

KSN continues to follow the story of Joey Weber, the autistic man shot and killed by a Hays police officer last August.

Now, lawmakers are pushing for a bill in his name — that would help identify those suffering autism to law enforcement.

On Wednesday, Joey Weber’s father testified before lawmakers in Topeka.

The bill would allow for an added note on the registration of a vehicle owned or driven by someone mentally impaired. It would be voluntary to provide that information. The act also allows for a notice on a driver’s license or state ID.

There could be a vote to send it to the House of Representatives next week.