Just to clear up confusion first, Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd around the world and Autism Awareness Month is April for most countries. However, in Canada, Autism Awareness Month is actually October. And being that this is October, I thought I’d write out what Autism Awareness really means, at least to me.
When you hear the phrase, and many others like it (Breast Cancer Awareness, AIDS awareness, etc), you sort of laugh to yourself and think “awareness? Who hasn’t heard of them by now??”
There is obviously a lot more to these things than simply being ‘aware’ of it’s existence. It’s about being aware of the facts, aware of the people who are involved and aware of the struggles those people face.
Autism Awareness is about making people aware that it affects 1 in 110 children around the world, even more scary than that, 1 in 70 boys! I bet most people who are ‘aware’ of Autism had no idea that it was that prevalent.
Autism Awareness is not just answering questions from people but volunteering information they never would have dreamed of. For example, just last night I was talking to someone about how someone with Autism might not be able to distinguish facial features from person to person and will very likely be unable to recognize emotion from facial expressions.
They immediately asked if it’s common for all people with Autism.
The simple answer is no, but instead I proceeded to tell him that the ONLY commonality between all people with Autism is that there is no commonality between all people with Autism.
You can be sure that answer sparked up a conversation and he left informed and I left feeling a little better about how he’ll treat his neighbour’s child that has Autism.
On that note, Autism Awareness isn’t just about scary numbers either, like the ones found here, it’s about helping people to recognize things they might never have thought of before… like that strange child at all the family reunions that absolutely refuses to hug anyone, and just sits at a table by themselves… they’re not loners, they’re not strange, they’re not the odd one in the family. They’re very much aware of everything happening all around them and they really do want to be part of it all, they just can’t. Stop judging them.
Autism Awareness is much more about understanding than it is awareness. It’s about understanding leading to acceptance.
The truth is, at 1 in 110, you’ve already met at least one person with Autism and likely didn’t even realize it. The question is, how did you perceive them. Did you judge them? Did you judge their parents? Did you dismiss them? Did you take the time to consider their thoughts and feelings?
Perhaps it would be more clear if Autism Awareness was changed to Autism Understanding and Acceptance… because, to me, that’s what this is all about.
Awareness is great for diseases, viruses, contagions… step up, learn the numbers, donate and help out.
But for Autism, and many other childhood disorders, what is truly needed is understanding and acceptance. Research, treatments, therapies… maybe even cures (in some cases and for some people)… these would be nice, but for now… right now, we need understanding and acceptance.
Only then will children and their parents not be judged, only then will there be jobs and opportunities, only then will there be funding available, more schooling options and only then will those with Autism not feel like an outcast looking into a world where they don’t belong.
Whether you are in Canada, reading this in October, or elsewhere reading this in April… speak up, inform and help to raise more than just awareness, help to spread ‘Autism Understanding and Acceptance’.