“Where are we now”



Andrew Duff speaks in Kamerick Art Building room 111. Duff, a New York City actor, is on the autism speaks spectrum and discussed what it is like for him.


UNI students came face to face with the challenges of living while affected by autism last Thursday, Oct. 13 during a discussion in the Kamerick Art Building that was presented  in partnership by Alpha Xi Delta, Uncommon Sense and the Gallagher Bluedorn.

Andrew Duff, a New York City actor, led the discussion on what it is like to be on the autism spectrum. He shared how he came to the idea of his one-man show, “Where Are We Now,” as well as important details about where he came from and how he lives his life now.

“Next time you encounter someone who’s different just take a second and wonder how am I different,” Duff said. “Some people may think it’s weird to follow the status quo and that’s ok. Autism is just a part of the human experience.”

Duff said autism affected him at a young age. Before he was diagnosed at age two, his parents thought he was deaf since he never responded to his name. However, because he responded to his favorite televisions shows they knew that something else was the case.

Duff was nonverbal and very sensitive to noise when he was young. But, around the age of four or five he uttered his first sensible words: “Where are we now?” He said this occurred when his family was in the car on their way to McDonalds.

Duff said he made progress as he aged—he told his first lie in elementary school.

Lying is uncommon for people affected by autism. This was only the beginning, Duff said. He then graduated high school and attended Bennington College. For his senior year project in college he came up with his one man show.

“I think it is super important to be more aware of the concept of autism as a whole because you never know who is and is not affected by autism, and [sic] in order to be respectful and empathetic towards our community members,” said Katie Alger, a sophomore English major in attendance.

One practice common to those on the autism spectrum that people may not know about is “stimming,” Duff said. Stimming is the repetition of physical movements, sounds or repetitive movement of objects.  Duff said everyone stims, even people not affected by autism — who Duff referred to as “neurotypical.”

Duff said stimming is viewed as odd behavior from those who may not understand autism, and that it’s something that needs to be “fixed.”

The audience was able to ask questions following Duff’s talk. A UNI student, Cody Cox, joined Duff on the panel.

Cox said his experience was similar to Duff’s in many ways but was different in a few distinct ways.

Cox, at 23, was diagnosed as being affected by autism.

This has made it difficult for him to cope with the realization that he is affected by autism — it also made it difficult on his family. Cox’s family accepts him, he said, but he also feels they pressure him to act “normal.”

Another way Cox feels pressured is within his career path. Being an education major, Cox said he had realized the difficulties he may have to overcome.

“[With] the career path that I have chosen […] going into teaching, you have to talk and even though that’s my worst enemy [. . .] I think the more experience you get from that the more you’re going to adapt and change you have to want to change it,” Cody said.

Both men said they struggled with internal and external pressures to conform to “normal” behavior. They both want to express to neurotypical people that they are people just like anyone else.

“We’re people [. . .] we have a difference in our disabilities, learning styles, we’re all different people though I think it is so crucial to say that we are a person first,” Cody said. “[Autism] doesn’t define us [. . .] if you can look at us [as human beings] first then that other stuff — the other quirks that we have, the other interesting things that we have the other fascinations that we have — […] they kind of all make sense.”

One audience member asked whether there are common things that neurotypical people do when interacting with those on the autism spectrum consider offensive, even if it is unintentional.

Duff responded, saying he did not appreciate when people refer to autism as a disease or speak of curing it — those who view it in this way become stuck in that mindset.

“Everyone with autism is capable of doing something and jobs need to be introduced that each person can do you just have to figure out what that is” Duff said.

Duff said the best thing a neuro typical person can do is get involved. Duff is a member of Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization that according to their official site “enhances lives today and is accelerating a spectrum of solutions tomorrow.”

But because autism is so broad, Duff said, there are several things that can be done to help the people effected by autism.

The GBPAC will be hosting a production that addresses experiences with the autism spectrum put on by Uncommon Sense on Jan. 22.

To receive more information, visit the Autism Speaks website at https://www.autismspeaks.org/.