I have been observing all the light it up blue slogans that inevitably pop up during autism awareness month In recent years, I have witnessed buildings as grand as the Empire State Building emanating with the familiar blue glow to acknowledge autism spectrum awareness.
I have witnessed rivers tinted blue, blue signs in windows, individuals who colored their hair blue, wore blue clothes and more in the name of supporting autism awareness. Their intentions are good and appreciated. However what is awareness?
According to the Merriam Webster Encyclopedia, awareness means: “knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists”
Knowing that something exists, is not quite the same as fully supporting the issue. An example would be that we may see a homeless individual on the street and feel some empathy for there dilemma. This is an example of awareness of a situation. An individual may express concern for the homeless person’s situation, yet walk by them and go about their day. Rather then walking away, the individual who acts upon their concern and offers the individual a cup of coffee, etc. has learned from their level of awareness and used their knowledge to take action.
In my opinion, autism awareness month should be called autism awareness, understanding and acceptance month. For sure, light up blue. But what else will you do? Autism awareness month is an opportune time to gain understanding about the autism community. Awareness can turn into acceptance and that in turn can breed understanding within society.
How, you may ask does this domino effect occur? When you see the color blue which is abundant right now in support of ASD, attempt to delve deeper and learn what autism awareness is about. As you delve deeper, a learning experience will occur. This learning experience may help you gain a better comprehension of what the autism community goes through every day. This may be resultant in feeling compelled to take action and get involved with ASD.
As the parent of an adult son with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADD, I can tell you with some degree of certainty that for the ASD community autism awareness is something that we are conscious of 24 – 7. When other parents are worried because their child did not become prom queen or head of the football team, ASD parents simply wish their child had one friend or could be accepted on a sports team. I hear many individuals say they know someone with autism, have interacted with someone on the spectrum, or taught someone on the spectrum and declare themselves aficionados on the topic.
Living with someone who has ASD or being an individual with ASD is not the same thing. One may know someone on the spectrum yet their interaction is limited as they are able to go home. A teacher may see them in a classroom yet do not have to get up with that child when they wander etc. in the middle of the night.
When other parents get babysitters and go out on a date night, ASD parents are at home because their child’s meltdowns, behaviors, and needs are too difficult for most baby sitters to handle. Special needs parents may be financially strapped as well due to occupational, speech, and physical therapy bills, medical issues, and supplemental items that their child needs. Thus, cannot afford babysitting services.
That said, I would like to propose a challenge to everyone. Light it up blue but please think about what you can do. If a neighbor has a child on the spectrum, offer to babysit or take the child out so the parents can have some respite. If you see a child having a meltdown in public, do not assume they are spoiled and require discipline. That child may be on the spectrum and you might not be aware of that fact. A simple acknowledgment to a parent mentioning the fact that they appear to be having a difficult time and offering assistance goes a long way.
Offer to take their typically developing children out as many special needs parents possess deep guilt regarding the fact that special needs demands take time away from their other children. In reverse, visit their house and interact with their special needs child so parents can have some cherished one on one time with their typically developing children.
Perhaps you could offer to cook a meal for the family, or mow their lawn in consideration of the fact that their child’s needs are time consuming and the parents may me strapped for time. This list could be lengthy. Just use your imagination will end it here as I believe my message has been conveyed.
Educators or autism specialist could offer courses to educate the public on Autism. Teachers could read books about autism in their classrooms or allow parents to come in and speak about their children.
Awareness can be a wonderful tool that can change the world. I once had a small child in my classroom that was afraid to go in the playground because a little boy chased her and growled at her. It turned out that the little boy in question was autistic and nonverbal.
I consulted with the little girls parents. It became evident that she had never had interactions with autistic individuals before. I read books about autism in class and with all of the parent’s blessings had the autistic child visit my class. I educated the children on his issues, showed them that there was nothing to fear, had the autistic boy’s mother come in and talk about his issues.
The end result: The little girl who was initially terrified of the autistic boy due to not knowing what his issues were, became his friend. I always made sure that interactions were supervised by an adult. My crowning moment of joy was observing the little boy being bullied in the playground. The little girl who initially was afraid came to his defense and explained his issues to the bullies. The bullies backed away and the little girl attempted to play with her new autistic friend.
Through initial awareness and education, action and acceptance occurred. And a little child shall lead. Light it up blue, but what will you do?
Mari Nosal M.Ed., CECE
Mari Nosal : Please stop by my site at Amazon Books and check out my published books on autism aspergers special needs and more http://tinyurl.com/kdspqy9