Friday, April 5, 2013

Less Awareness, more Acceptance!

April is just around the corner and we are facing a barrage of ‘Autism Awareness’ again. A good time to get something off my chest that I have been thinking about a lot lately.

Last year was the first time I’d ever heard of ‘World Autism Awareness Day’ and month. Naturally I thought this had to be a good thing, we all need to be aware as it affects so many of us. I spread the word, dutifully, thinking I was doing the right thing for my son and the autism community.

Well, a lot has changed since those early days, and I’m not so sure about that anymore.

For starters, I have learned that autistic people everywhere have come to dread April. They dread it because this campaign to spread ‘awareness’ seems to conjure up a lot of negative images about autism. The rhetoric is largely alarmist and negativ, sometimes overtly and sometimes not so overtly. There is talk of ‘increased risk’ of having a child with autism if you are too old/eat the wrong foods/(insert subject of personal guilt here) when you’re pregnant, of ‘epidemics’, of people being ‘afflicted’ and ‘suffering’ with autism.

It seems to speak to vulnerable parents of young children who find it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know, cause I’ve been there. Parenting 2, 3, 4 and 5 year olds comes with it’s own set of challenges. Throw into the mix developmental delays,
speech delays/non verbal-ness and the frustrations that go hand in hand with that, sensory issues etc, and it’s easy to get caught up in the struggle and worry of it all.

But, you see, the story does not end there. Children grow older. We all learn as we go along, our children do and we as parents do. We adapt, we grow, and things get easier. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Autistic adults are everywhere, if you care to look for them.

They write blogs. They communicate. They know first hand what it’s like to be autistic, and we need to listen to them and take heart, because our children are going to be them in a few years. And how great! They are people living their lives, needing varying amounts of supports and accomodations, but nonetheless making valuable contributions to our society. They are people making a difference in our world.

As my son grows up he will start to realise about his own differences. He will be able to read up and find out about autism, and he will find out what the world thinks of him based on his autism.

So I need to think about what kind of message I want to send to him now. What exactly do I want the world to be aware of?
That autism exists? That autistic people are all around us? That there’s an epidemic? That it’s a problem? That something needs to be done about it?

So much of the information out there has a negative spin to it. And I have to ask myself, do I really want my son to grow up thinking that he is a problem, or a burden, that we, his parents, the people he trusts and relies on the most, have spent his childhood years looking to ‘cure’ him, to ‘reverse’ or ‘defeat’ his autism or to prevent people like him in the future? That he is somehow a less valuable member of society because he is autistic?
Hell no I don’t!

I don’t want him to ever feel that he is less than any of his peers. I do not want him to grow up feeling inadequate, isolated or crushingly insecure about his differences. I don’t want him to ever think that he is slow-witted or stupid because some things are a little more difficult for him than for your average person.

I want him to know that his autism makes him different, not less; that it isn’t something that needs fixing; that even when things are difficult and challenging, he is never a burden. I want him to know that I have never wanted him to be anyone other than himself, and that he is loved and accepted for who he is, always.

I want him to know his strengths, and I want him to be able to navigate our diverse world successfully whilst feeling secure enough in himself to be himself. I want him to be as healthy as he can be and to always feel supported and accepted, so he can be his best autistic self!

So that is why this year, I will be spreading the word for Autism Acceptance instead!

This post is a reprint. The original is here: