Today, April 2nd, is World Autism Awareness Day. Everywhere, around the globe, across social media, and in the news, there will be thousands of pictures of much loved kids and adults. Today, efforts will continue to bring Autism to the forefront of peoples minds, and calls for much needed funding and services will be made. People will give likes, and maybe even share posts and articles. But, will they do any more than that?
How many of you will remember autism after the media blitz today? And, how will you remember autism if it doesn’t effect your life directly? Will you wonder if every kid having a meltdown in the grocery store is autistic? Will you assume every non-verbal or special needs person you run across, must have autism based on their behavior? How do you recognize autism when it isn’t being shown directly to you? Can you recognize it?
The Autism Science Foundation says, “When people refer to “Autism” today, they are usually talking about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which is a brain-based disorder characterized by social-communication challenges and restricted repetitive behaviors, activities, and interests.”
When everyday people think of autism, most are envisioning young, non-verbal children who are hard to manage. This is where the spectrum part of autism comes into play. You see, just like most personalities, autism runs the gamut. Some people born with autism never speak, never learn to care for themselves, may be violent. Other autistics, however, may be hard to spot. These are the so-called high-functioning autistics who have taught themselves to blend well enough into the neuro-typical box that most people think, Yeah, he’s a little weird, but they don’t ever think, Oh, he’s autistic.
In-between those two types of autistic people are a million other shades of autism. There’s a very popular saying, “Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” We learn more and more every day about the autistic brain and yet, we hardly know anything. We are constantly surprised and always searching to unlock what makes these awesome people tick.
No doubt, autistic people need help to achieve their greatest potential. But, they are not broken. They do not need to be cured or fixed. Their brains work differently from ours and that is never going to change. It is why we, the neuro-typical, must be open to changing our own way of viewing the world around us. Instead of trying to fit autistic people into our neat little box, we need to throw the box out and work on broadening the scope of what is considered to be normal living.
I believe in looking at autism for exactly what it is, a delay in brain development in utero that changed the way each autistic person sees and interacts with the outside world. I believe there hasn’t been enough done to bring fruition to a very common wish among autistic people, the wish to be treated just like you and I. They want the same acceptance, the same opportunities to live their life to its fullest potential. We must come together to help them achieve that.
Autism acceptance extends outside of autism to envelope all neuro-divergent people. It asks everyone to stop being afraid of what isn’t the majority and to open their minds to the possibility that autistic people and others who diverge from norm be welcomed and encouraged to be themselves.
If you don’t know an autistic person, I highly recommend you change that. Do more than like the posts, become a friend and an advocate to the autism community. Encourage lawmakers to continue passing laws of equality and diversity. Volunteer and fund raise for the autism charity of your choice. It’s always needed.
Services for adults on the spectrum, after the age of 18, are astronomical. My own daughter has been qualified for a service dog, a dog that may allow her to one day live a life outside our home without needing me with her as a security device. Service dogs are highly trained and specialized animals that cost between 10 and 20 thousand dollars. No joke.
If you run a business, consider giving autistic people a chance to work for you. Contrary to the movies and television shows, not every autistic person is a mathematical or electronic genius. They need other people in their communities to open their doors and help them grow and learn so they can gain independence through confidence. Welcome them into your life and reap the rewards that these awesome individuals can bring. I promise you they are eager to learn and aching to feel part of society. Yes, they may have quirks, tics, and the occasional panic attack, but the benefits far outweigh any perceived drawback.
Let go of assumptions. You are never going to know who is autistic and who isn’t. When you do come across an autistic individual, treat them as normally as possible. If someone is non-verbal, talk to them anyway. Research is showing that they’re in there. They’re listening to you, they’re understanding you. Their bodies may not cooperate, but they are soaking up every word, look, and action. Please remember that.
To accept someone means to let go of the standard expectations and to welcome and love them for simply who they are. It’s not always comfortable. They aren’t going to stay the cute six-year-old kid who tugs your heartstrings. Those cute kids grow up to be adults who need opportunities to learn, grow, work, play, build friendships and find love, and have families of their own someday. Their needs are not unlike your own.
It’s never always easy, but it’s always worth it.