Within the autism community, there are SO many people and also SO many different viewpoints on the issues. Things you might think the community as a whole should agree upon, right? Yeah, not so much. For instance, try asking about ‘autism awareness’ vs. ‘autism acceptance’ and you’re bound to get someone on either side riled up. Some people chafe at the very thought of Autism Awareness Month or “Light It Up Blue” for autism awareness.
They say that if you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. That’s why I believe Autism Awareness Month plays an important part. I am truly thankful that April is designated to enlighten those who otherwise might not even think twice about the people on the spectrum. But even more important than awareness is something better; we need to transcend from autism awareness into openly practicing autism acceptance.
There are those of us who are parents of autistic children that are still kind of divided on the issue of how to address Autism Awareness Month. I’ve seen friends ‘lighting it up blue’ for autism awareness, I’ve got others ‘lighting it up red’ for autism acceptance, and then I saw straight up social media meltdowns that this wasn’t a year-round awareness/acceptance crusade. Honestly? I believe they all have very important and valid points. Because as our family is a somewhat recent addition to the autism community, people who know next to nothing about autism DO need some awareness. They need to know that my daughter’s meltdown in the store is not because I’m a bad/weak/whatever parent, and she isn’t a bad/weak/whatever child. She is likely over-stimulated, and I am trying to dash through aisles at a breakneck speed to make sure I get the gallon of milk, fresh fruit, and that specific brand of string cheese everyone in the house agrees upon into the cart, and out the door before she erupts into Mt. Vesuvius.
But only after they know all that, might they accept it for what it is. Because after all, you can’t accept something you weren’t aware needed accepting. I will take newly found awareness any day of the week, but I will keep community acceptance on my wish list forever.
People are afraid to ask about autism. They are afraid of stepping on toes and making a social faux pas when asking about it. And while I totally understand the fear of hurting a friend or even a friendly stranger, I wholeheartedly appreciate the complete opposite approach. Be upfront and ask. I want to let you know. So if you want to ask me why my child repeats things a lot, ask me. If you’re curious why she jumps and flaps her arms when she is excited, I have an answer. If you didn’t understand why she started bawling when she heard someone else crying. Please, I would love to explain it. Because I truly do want and need people to understand.
And the bottom line is that any gained awareness is going to be good for autism. Some > None. Right?
Light It Up Blue if you want. Or light it up olive green, mustard yellow, chartreuse, periwinkle…whatever! But, whatever color you decide to shine upon autism, just light it up in general, please. Light up autism with knowledge, first and foremost. Shine a light on those uncomfortable questions that are hidden in the corner because people think they are silly, or rude, or possibly hurtful. Questions in an attempt to gain knowledge, and asked in sincerity are generally going to be met with a like response. And in doing that, by asking and lighting up autism with questions, knowledge, awareness, and acceptance you’ll be letting people know that my daughter, your brother, your cousin, or anyone else who might have Autism Spectrum Disorder are people just like anyone else.