Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I have read so many posts, from so many different places, complaining of the use of the word “awareness”. So many complaints on the idea of a day of autism awareness. I’ve read posts about how awful the wearing of the color blue is. How lighting up the world doesn’t do anything. How none of this is helping autistic people. “Wearing blue won’t help my child make a friend.”, “Wearing blue won’t help me to be accepted.”, “Lighting up the Eiffel tower with blue lights will not help to change the way the autistic children of France are treated.” And on… and on it goes.
Before I go further, I must confess, I used to be one of those people. I’d get up on my pedestal and shout about how the world didn’t need any more awareness. I’d tell anyone that would listen (and some who didn’t want to) that what the world needed was a bit more understanding… A bit more acceptance… A lot more LOVE. THE WORLD JUST NEEDS MORE AUTISM LOVE! This message wasn’t necessarily a bad message, as the autism community (just like everyone else in this world) does deserve these things; but the truth is, it was a misguided message. Of course my daughter deserves to be accepted for who she is… And loved unconditionally… But, most importantly, she needs to be understood.
How can we expect the world to understand something they don’t know? We can’t. We cannot expect the world to understand something they are not educated on. We cannot expect the world to accept something that seems different without giving them a reason to. And, yes, maybe that sounds awful that we need to give people a reason to be accepting.. But it is the truth. The reality is that the world is a cold, cruel place sometimes. People are bigoted. They make fun of others. They dislike for no reason, and hate what they don’t understand. The only way to help them understand is to raise awareness; because through awareness there is education. Through education there is knowledge. With knowledge comes understanding. And after understanding, well that is when great things happen, like acceptance and LOVE.
If one more autistic child is asked to a play date this month because of this awareness campaign, that is a victory. If one autistic individual is given a chance to show who they are, that is a success. If one less autistic child in France is forced to undergo institutionalization as well as ridiculous and cruel psychotherapy measures, we have triumphed. And if these things are won by the wearing of a blue shirt, the lighting up of a building, and the usage of bumper stickers then I am all for it. And to each individual that wore blue today, I salute you. And I ask you to smile at the next person you see who may seem a bit “different”.. because awareness is always best followed by acceptance.