White Knuckle Parenting: Happy Autism Awareness Month!
April is autism awareness month. It's easy to assume that with 1 in 88 children diagnosed, everyone is already aware of autism. What is lacking is understanding. This is why autism awareness month still matters.
April is autism awareness month. Yesterday was world autism awareness day. Each year, when these events roll around, I wonder why we make such a big deal about an arbitrary month or a random day in April.
Who doesn't know about autism yet?
With 1 in 88 children affected, everyone must know someone with autism. I do. My son Jack is autistic, and I have many friends who are either autistic themselves or parents of children with autism. I am so aware, every single day, of autism. I wonder why we need to bother.
And then I remember. I remember that before I had a child with autism, that although I knew autism existed, I didn't really know anything about it. It just seemed like this scary, terrible thing that happened to other people.
I remember seeing children and teenagers acting out in public and judging them and their parents without even thinking that there might be an underlying disability. I would see people with certain stims—repetitive and awkward movements—and feel uncomfortable, not knowing how much I should acknowledge them.
I remember that I would look at people with obvious developmental or intellectual disabilities—although I didn't know the difference between them then—and feel nothing but sadness for them. Do they wish they could be normal? I would wonder.
I remember that I had no idea that people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are normal, just not the same as you and me. I didn't know that people with severe disabilities could be happy, productive, worthwhile members of society. I didn't know that people who couldn't talk could communicate. I didn't know that these children and adults were deeply loved and the lights of their families' lives.
I assumed that having a child with these disabilities would be devastating and life destroying.
This was me, six years ago.
This might be you, today.
This is why we need to work so hard to spread awareness. People who are unaware are not bad people. I wasn't a bad person back then. I was in favor of helping people with disabilities, but I didn't spend much time thinking about them. I just didn't know, and I didn't think I had a reason to learn.
My son Jack and his autism diagnosis were my impetus to learn and to be aware, but I wish I'd bothered even before then. A lot of people assume that things like autism awareness don't affect them, but they do. Autism affects me, and it affects you.
Your child will have a classmate with autism, who will be treated well or treated badly, in part based on how you teach your child.
You will have a coworker with autism, who will be embraced for her quirks and abilities, or ostracized for being weird.
You will run into a residential home outing at the mall, and you will have the choice to walk by quickly with your head down, or give them the same attention and respect you give other shoppers, or maybe even more, knowing they won't get it from everyone.
Your tax dollars will be spent on government early education programs and special education or it will be spent later, after the system has failed these children who might have had bright futures in a society with more forethought.
You might give birth to a child with autism. If you do, you will see the gifts that having a special needs child brings. You will understand how hard it can be. Your eyes will open to the joy that comes with it. You will know that your child with autism is just as precious as any other child and will grow up to be an adult with autism, who is no less important because of his developmental disability.
You will need the world to be aware of and accepting of your beautiful child.
This could be you in six years.
This is me, now.
This is why autism awareness days are important to me. This is why even though sometimes I get tired of talking about autism, I continue to do so. Every single person I reach is someone who might be able to make my son's life, or the life of another person with autism, better.
I hope that my awareness and acceptance message reaches someone new today. I hope that this person will then spread that message to another and then another. I hope that this message can help.
This is my autism awareness.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.