Today is Autism Awareness Day. It is a day to celebrate everyone touched by autism, and to increase awareness about autism. Not “of autism,” but “about autism.” Increasingly I have seen and heard people in our community dismiss “awareness” in favor of “acceptance”. I don’t think anyone can argue against acceptance. But I don’t entirely understand the dismissal of awareness altogether.
If everyone was “aware” of autism, my child’s band director may have been more open to his needs, and may not have decided that he needed to switch instruments or quit band. If my son’s first social studies teacher of the year was “aware” of autism, she may not have decided on the second day of class that he needed to be in the special ed room instead of her class. Even I continue to become “aware” of better ways to handle certain situations and behaviors in relation to my son’s autism. So I don’t think we’re “done” with “awareness,” or that we are ready to “forget” it in favor of acceptance.
I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own little community bubble that we think everyone is “aware” but it just isn’t true. Yes, acceptance is our ultimate goal, but we cannot get there without first helping others to understand the many facets of autism, through awareness campaigns.
People in our community are also upset, saying “Autism doesn’t only ‘happen’ in April,” which is silly. Do any other communities of those with medical conditions get upset that they have a nationally recognized month which brings awareness to their fundraising efforts? No one thinks it only happens for a month, but in all reality, it slips out of people’s consciousness after the month is over unless they are touched by autism somehow, and until they experience autism first-hand at a restaurant, mall or other public venue, or at a get-together in the neighborhood or dinner at a friend’s house. And then, because of Autism Awareness month, they may remember that what they are seeing may not be a tantrum from a spoiled child, or the bizarre actions of some weird kid. “Oh yeah, he may have autism,” they may think, and react with compassion instead of condemnation.
Awareness. Acceptance. Awareness Day. Awareness Month. Words do matter, and another word that is tossed around and shouldn’t be is “epidemic,” which signifies that autism is a disease, which it is not. The new numbers released by the CDC are interesting, but not worthy of hysteria. It simply puts an exclamation point on the need for more research, and more services for those with autism of all ages.
So happy Autism Awareness Day and Month. I hope we reach billions this year, and begin to change hearts and minds which may have been sheltered in ignorance before. I hope we can work together as a community to see this opportunity for what it is – something still very necessary to reaching our goal of acceptance for those with autism.