April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, so today in particular, we’re going to address reality about autism. Namely, the fact that awareness isn’t reality, and more to the point does little to help those who are actually autistic.
To be aware is great, but to accept the autistic is far more important not only to them, but to others. In real terms, awareness is extremely limited in the mind of the observer. To be aware of something implies a lack of detailed knowledge of the subject.
There are many things in life and our experiences we are aware of, but only a fraction of them gain acceptance in our minds.
As a boy, I knew three people with autism. I was aware of them. I knew them as neighbors. I knew their ages. I was aware of them and their difficulties. But I did not accept them. I had no prejudice towards them, but they were not a regular part of my life, as were my school friends.
Fast forward 48 years and I meet a brilliant young man with Asperger Syndrome. At first, he doesn’t tell me that he has AS. He just seems, well, a little weird. It took him over a year before he confided in me that he is an Aspergian. All along I was aware of something odd, but it didn’t bother me. However, once he informed me, it was easy to accept his condition and to discover what it means to him and others. Together, we formed Autism Citizen, and today he’s a trusted best friend.
As time progressed with Autism Citizen, we heard the protestations of throngs of autistic individuals who believe that simple awareness isn’t sufficient. They don’t want people to simply know they exist, but to be accepted as an equal. In researching their perspective, it became evident that most autism organizations work for awareness, and some really big ones deal only in research, with little if anything given back to the autistic.
This is, candidly, a crime. One organization, I call ‘big blue’, raises tens of millions of dollars and gives back nothing, really, to the communities where they raise money. They promote awareness through events and public relations campaigns, mostly for fundraising, and less to help people. So awareness means nothing to those with autism and everything to marketers and promoters. Keep in mind that a donor who’s made “aware” is anything but, because he or she is unaware of the use of that donation. They’re told to believe the money goes to help the autistic, but it never does. Rather, it usually pays high salaries; high operating costs and to fund pet projects to further enhance the organization’s reputation and support future fundraising.
The key to giving those on the autism spectrum peace of mind and comfort is acceptance, which the community is screaming for, though only a few organizations, such as Autism Citizen are listening.
What Acceptance Means
To you, a broader definition of autism, and welcoming people with autism into your life as friends, colleagues and peers.
To those with autism, it means being a part of the broader community with reduced fear of prejudice or bullying, and the chance to have friends, and co-exist with others. It means they’ll be treated as normal and that their autism doesn’t set them apart.
Oh, what a wonderful feeling it is to be accepted by others.