April is both Autism Awareness Month and Autism Acceptance Month. The reasons for the two different themes arise from a lot of history and differing ideas about what the month means. If you wish to look those up, I suggest Googling the latter.
But, regardless of what you call it, many of us run into this month on the calendar and think, “Well, what are we as autism parents supposed to do?”
Our friends get at least some glimpses into our lives. Our families either see or hear about what happens in our homes. The general public may see us out and about or hear about us in the news. So there’s a level of awareness already. The big question is, of course, how many of them really get it?
While I have met many kind-hearted souls, your lives and mine are littered with people, some very close to us, who simply don’t get it. And it hurts. We’ve tried everything to educate them, but to no avail. We feel they don’t treat our family and especially our children equally and with respect.
Knowing that, let me suggest a couple of activities for April.
1. Don’t hide.
The judgments of strangers and even some friends and family members grind us down. We get judged in stores, church, parks, parties, and just about anywhere else there’s a crowd. We aren’t invited to be a part of something, or we aren’t treated equally. Screw them. Get out in public and do stuff. Don’t hide.
Raising awareness and acceptance can also be to say, “I’m tired of living by society’s stupid, judgmental, social rules. This is who we are. If you don’t like it, tough.”
Let them feel however they feel. You aren’t responsible for them. And you certainly didn’t cause them to be both judge and jerk to others.
Which leads me to…
2. You don’t have to take it anymore.
If anybody – and I mean anybody, whether they are family, friends, or whomever – treats your child or you as a second-class citizen, vote them off your island. You don’t have to take that kind of crap anymore.
Raising awareness and acceptance can also be to say, “We will not be treated this way. I am fighting for acceptance for my child and our family. There are no exceptions. None.”
Living our day-to-day lives as we see fit is a pretty radical act. Many people feel a variety of ways toward our children and us that are crushingly negative and hurtful. It’s easy to avoid all that by hiding from the life you want.
But this only leads to you carrying the burden of other people’s negativity. Don’t do it.
The truth about life and our humanity is that together humankind is an endless array of wildly diverse people trying to fully express our lives as best we can. Some people don’t want to deal with the new, different, and unexpected. They just want the world to be simple, predictable, and convenient.
We really don’t fit this mold. Accept and celebrate this. It’s a great thing. Our children have so much to offer the world. Awareness and acceptance might be growing pains for others as they learn more about all the ways we express our humanity, but so be it. This is good for them and us, too, even if right now it’s hard.
There will always be plenty of people who reject our children and us. They may be people very close to us. And this hurts a lot. But you are not responsible for them and their feelings. You didn’t cause them; they did. They are responsible for themselves – not you, not your child.
Acceptance starts when we decide the kind of life we’re going to live with our families, friends, and the public. No one else gets to decide for us how to feel. No one else gets our time or energy if they don’t want to have a positive impact on our children and our lives.
It’s OK to decide what kind of awareness and acceptance you want this month or any month. It’s your right.