For those who do not know, ten years ago the United Nations designated the 2nd of April “World Autism Awareness Day.” There is often a call to do things to raise ‘awareness’ of autism.
Ten years ago, raising autism awareness may still have been necessary – perhaps it still is necessary in some quarters however it doesn’t go far enough. Awareness says “Have you heard about autism yet?” If people have, even just the word then they are aware. Step one is low, too low and too easily mastered.
But like all such days, the event often descends into yet another feel-good moment with little commitment required: change an avatar on Facebook, put on some colour that signals your awareness of Autism, maybe even attend an event about Autism. The problem is most then just shrug their shoulders, dust off their hands, pat themselves on the back, and go on full of awareness but often without any real knowledge of how to understand, support, affirm or celebrate those with Autism. The negative perceptions around Autism continue to be heard, often they form the dominant narrative in any conversation about Autism.
Now is the time for a deep conversation – a conversation about acceptance.
In the case of Autism, the exhortation of the day, is often to light up buildings in different colours – most often blue. Why? Because nothing says, “I really care about autistic people,” like going to the trouble to install coloured lights on tall buildings and then flipping them on for a few hours. Presumably, people will then be led to wonder, “Why is the Sky Tower <insert colour here> today?” and eagerly turn to the Internet for answers, learning for the first time that a condition called “Autism” exists. Awareness achievement unlocked. All done. Except, it’s not. Nothing changes for those of us who are actually autistic. This event ends up being about us without us.
In an effort to combat this idea of lighting it up blue autistics activists promote “Red Instead” or “Light It Up Gold (LUIG)” or “Tone It Down Taupe” buying into the same false social construct. At the end of the day coloured lights or even just colours on Facebook do nothing to benefit us.
But you can do some real things that can make a difference for actual autistics something that goes beyond tokenistic changing of social media colours.
So how can YOU show acceptance to those who are Autistic, be they children or adults?
* share memes, blogs, writings by actual autistics
* value and celebrate the achievements of those who are autistic
* reframe Autism’s traits in a positive way when talking about autism on a daily basis
* lobby for services and supports for autistics and their families
* empower autistics by helping them find their ‘voice’ whatever form that might take
* for the autistics in your life: be mindful of their sensory needs, consider schedules/routines, be open to their communication needs/styles, help them plan and implement, be mindful of when they may need to retreat, demonstrate empathy, and support them by building them up not tearing them down.