05 April, 2006

Autism Awareness

Ok, try number 14… (There is that communication problem again)

After Connor was diagnosed in February of 2003, I wanted to spread awareness about Autism to everyone who would listen to me. As April came around, I never failed to work Autism Awareness into just about every conversation. I think the employees at McDonald’s actually got pretty sick of it after a while…

I was a firm believer that Autism Awareness was a very important thing! Unfortunately as I continued to learn more about Autism and the community surrounding it, my desire to support Awareness waned a great deal. It seemed that every time I turned around, I saw references to Autism as a puzzle that needed to be fixed, as a horrible disease in need of a cure, or as an after effect of government evils. I was sickened. The last thing I wanted was for people to become aware of Autism by hearing about the evil Mercury or the devastation for families dealing with Autism.

Over and over, I couldn’t help but think that Connor and I are not puzzles, we are people who think differently, communicate differently, and have some strange little quirks. I didn’t want to be cured, nor did I want a cure for Connor. I also couldn’t help but realize that Mercury couldn’t account for the many generations of Autistic Spectrum Disorders seen in my family. So, I decided that awareness was not something I wanted.

This year, just in time for this April, I have had a change of heart in support of awareness. The concept of Awareness that I want to get out there, however, has nothing to do with cures, vaccines, or puzzles. It is about two simple words: Understanding and Acceptance.

Two simple words, surely not an original idea of what awareness should be. Yet it seems that these two simple words are frequently missing. Perhaps the key here is that someone needs to break this down and explain what is meant by “Understanding and Acceptance”.

Autism is not a disease, it is not even a mental disorder; it is a neurological disorder that is tied to measurable differences in brain function and activity. You will not catch Autism by playing with us, nor will you become Autistic due to some traumatic psychological event in your life. Autistics can communicate when we are given the correct tools, we can feel emotions, and we can even fall in love and have families of their own. Getting people to see this is the “Understanding” aspect of true Autism Awareness.

Some people with Autism can not communicate with verbal language skills and need special tools to communicate. Some can use verbal skills, but find it extremely difficult and awkward. Many people with Autism have odd little hand motions (flapping), auditory noises, jitters, and many other abnormal behaviors… We are, however, incredible people who see the world differently. “Acceptance” is the aspect of true Autism Awareness that helps people to look past the behaviors, the lack of eye contact, and even the unique communications problems to get to know us… there is so much we all have to say and want to share.

The problem, now, is how to get this not-so-new idea of what true Autism Awareness is all about out to the world. To that end, I have created a design for my ”Autism: Deal With It!” store that clearly states it. Although I don’t believe in using my blog to advertise my shop, this is one idea I would like to see spread. The products with the Autism Awareness design can be found here.


Anonymous Brett said...


I've been giving this a lot of thought lately, and I agree that the key is to build an understanding of autism in society as a whole. I think that once autism is understood, awareness of the challenges of autistics and the contribution of autistics to society will follow (though possibly not as fast as we would all like).

The key to understanding - education. We as autism bloggers have mostly as our audience others who are already aware of the need for understanding, so at times it seems we are preaching to the choir (even though there are a couple of different choirs to preach to!)

How do we spread this interest to those with no direct interest in autism? That, I think, is the big question, and I think that is one of the great potential values of autism awareness month. We just have to be careful of the message we get across.

Autism for Parents

05 April, 2006 05:49  
Anonymous Some Random Chick said...

Nice BLOG :) I'm hunting around other Cafe Pressers BLOGs to steal... err... borrow and adapt ideas...

Yours is very interesting.

Some Random Writer Chick aka Keltic Kat

14 April, 2006 22:15  
Anonymous Karen_F said...

I thoroughly agree with your sentiment - understanding and acceptance.

The greatest challenge I've had to face as a parent is accepting it myself, that its not a malfunction from me and my genes, that I don't need to feel guilty about it, that I do in fact have a child with a disability, that my life is still as sweet as his full-blown-sunshine-on-a-dark-day smiles.

Understanding - well.. I doubt I'll ever fully understand, but I have 3 wonderful children, and a fantastic husband, and we are sharing this journey together.

I have just started my Blog, and it's here, if you'd like to have a look. Thanks for the things you share on your site. :)

17 April, 2006 04:23  
Anonymous CrazyCrochetingMama said...

Thank you, that is exactly how I feel too. I don't want my daughter cured, I just want people to understand her and how she is.

24 June, 2006 07:04  
Anonymous Sandrissimo said...

I remember that when my son was diagnosed, I also wanted to tell the world about it. I had no idea that autism could take this form, for me autism was "Rainman".

My telling it to everybody did get some really weird reactions. People refused to believe that my son had autism, he seemed almost "normal" in their eyes and the problems I had with him were caused by me being to tolerant to him.

In their minds, I was doing everything wrong and saying my son had autism was making excuses for me being a bad educator.

My ex-husband even claimed that my son "caught" autisme because of the divorce!!

So I stopped telling he had autism and called it another name. I started using the name Asperger syndrome. Most people didn't know what that was at that time and they seemed to want to accept this other thing, as long as I didn't call it autism.

I started looking to everybody in a different way. I think that movies give us much better examples of autism than Rainman, only people don't recognise it that way.

When I see for instance Forrest Gump, I see someone who has similar behaviour as my son and my ex. Am I the only one who notices this?

I even stopped thinking of it as a disorder. It's a different way of thinking, but it enriches society and we have to respect it.


08 December, 2006 07:58  

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