April is “Autism Awareness Month.” I say that’s not enough. Parents of children with Autism are aware of the isolation that their children feel when they are mocked by their peers, and they are aware of the lack of sufficient resources to help their children thrive in schools. Adults with Autism are aware that many who claim to speak for the Autism community don’t actually ask Autistic people for their opinion. They are aware that many businesses refuse to give them a chance at meaningful employment.
It is not enough to be aware one month of the year. Honestly, it seems like the only people really paying attention to Autism Awareness month are people in the community. Others seem to just want to donate money to an Autism charity to ease their conscience and feel like they made a difference.
Here’s an startling, heartbreaking example of why we need to do MORE. My friend, Cindy, shared a story of what happened when she was shopping at Walmart this week with her son, Ty. Ty is Autistic and has limited speech. He’s also sweet and funny and we love Ty, but moving on… Cindy described an encounter they had while in the store:
We were approached by an employee who seemed to have an intellectual disability of some kind. “Is he special?” He asked, pointing at Ty. “He sure is!” I said. “He is VERY special and I love him very much.” The man said, “I’m special too. So I understand. He can be my friend”. I assured him that we could be his friend too, and agreed we’d high-five him whenever we shopped there. He liked this. “Of course, everyone else thinks we are freaks”, he said. What could I do but laugh? “Well maybe we are ALL freaks”, I said.
My emotions changed from inspired to heartbroken as I read it. “Everyone else thinks we are freaks.” NO ONE should have to feel that way. If you want to make a difference then YOU should be a friend to this man too. Not just in April, but EVERY month.
Want to REALLY make a difference? ACCEPT. APPRECIATE. ACCOMMODATE. ADVOCATE. Take ACTION. Keep reading for some suggestions of ways that you can improve the lives of people with Autism.
Treat Autistic individuals with respect. Teach your children kindness, empathy, and to ACCEPT those who are different. Not only that, but to APPRECIATE their uniqueness. This can actually yield results beyond simply awareness. The amazing way that my son’s classmates recently stood up for him is a beautiful example of what can happen when we are transparent with children about inclusion and disability. You should totally go read it, but only if you have tissues handy.
Yes, I said disability. Some people bristle when that term is used in reference to Autism. I do not mean to be disrespectful but I do want to be realistic. Autism presents both blessings and challenges. People with Autism have to work hard to navigate in the neurotypical world. That is why it is so important for others to be willing to ACCOMMODATE them. Educators need to be flexible in their teaching styles and teach children with Autism the way they need to learn. Employers need to be open to hiring people with any sort of disability so that they can support themselves AND show the world that they really do have something to contribute. Give them a chance. They will surprise you.
ADVOCATE. If you see unkindness or discrimination then speak up and FIGHT it. Be a positive voice in a world full of bigotry and “retard” jokes. Join movements that strive to improve the lives of people with Autism, like fighting for insurance coverage for Autism therapies.
Take ACTION. Be a friend to a person with Autism. Encourage your children to play with the child who is alone on the swings every day at recess. Reach out to the parent of a child with Autism and ask, “What can I do to help?” Invite them into your home and to your child’s birthday parties.
For more information on Autism Acceptance month you can visit this website: http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/about/. It has a lot of helpful information, links, and resources. Also, if you want to give your money to support the Autism community I encourage you to seek out an organization like the Autism Society of America. They are there WITH us and for us, day in and day out, providing resources for families of children with Autism as well as Autistic adults. They make a difference in countless lives, including my family’s.
ACCEPT. APPRECIATE. ACCOMMODATE. ADVOCATE. Take ACTION. What will YOU do for Autism this April?
Like this post? Don’t forget to “Follow” Seriously Not Boring or subscribe to email updates. You can check out our Seriously Not Boring Facebook page and give us a “Like” there too, or follow @SrslyNotBoring on Twitter. Thanks for stopping by!