Today is World Autism Awareness Day. To be honest, I’m not interested in awareness anymore.
Today is the one day on the calendar where it’s popular for the general public to temporarily lift their heads and look around in vague awareness of something that is fundamental to the identity of 1.5% of the people alive right now.
Awareness sounds like something you feel when you hurt your foot, run into somebody, or realize you’re late to an appointment. There’s awareness going on all over the place today because it’s become trendy.
I don’t think we really need this.
What our kids need is acceptance. Acceptance is harder than awareness because it requires effort and time. Awareness is too easy and doesn’t require anything of people. Thankfully, Autism Acceptance Day and Autism Acceptance Month (also observed today and this month) came to be precisely because awareness alone just wasn’t cutting it.
Our kids need to be able to grow through childhood into adulthood getting the education and services they need to become the person they want to be. Our kids should be able to go to stores and schools and not be looked down upon or bullied. Our kids should not be attacked for “taking too much school funding” (a BS argument to begin with) or for getting government-funded services.
Awareness won’t get us any of that. It’s barely even a starting point. It’s not even a noticeable movement of the attitude needle. It’s awareness as in, “Hey, it’s sunny today.”
Autistic persons of all ages are no longer interested in awareness. They want to be accepted for who they are. They want people to stop trying to completely change them to conform to some societal standard. They just want to be a full part of the world like everyone else.
Is this too much to ask? Isn’t this what we want for our own children?
I admit that a kind of awareness can help in some instances. When you have family and friends who genuinely want to learn about autism, your child, and your family, then that’s a wonderful thing. As they become more aware of your child, their challenges, and so forth, their hearts can open to all new possibilities, levels of compassion, and avenues of advocacy.
Maybe we should call this “awareness plus”. It’s born of a genuine desire to learn and grow in knowledge. It arises from kindness and wanting to help. It comes from a desire, even if they don’t quite realize it, to grow toward acceptance.
I feel like these are the people we should concentrate on, the ones who show an inclination to learn, help, and become advocates for our children. Many of my friends and family members are such people, and I’m proud of them for stepping up to help our son.
In order to get to a world of acceptance where our children are respected for who they are, we have to start with people who are willing to learn and become participants in this movement. Those who either just participate once a year or who, much worse, actively want us to go away, aren’t people we can do much with right now.
If we’re going to do this at all, we need to concentrate on those who are more actively interested in offering genuine, compassionate help. Let’s be clear. I don’t expect everyone to drop everything they do and help us. That’s neither fair nor realistic. But allies willing to learn and lend a hand are gold. They hold so much of the key to us as a society moving forward toward acceptance.
But ultimately it’s up to you whom you wish to educate or not, make aware or not, seek acceptance from or not. You are under no obligation to do any of it just because it’s a month and day on the calendar. Your only obligation is to your child, your family, and yourself.
I think we do have to build bridges to potential allies and advocates in order to create a better world for our children and autistic persons everywhere. It’s an ongoing project we all participate in to some degree or another. But it’s not just for April, and it’s certainly not just for April 2nd.
It’s our daily lives.