I have mixed feelings about autism awareness month. I am glad for the attention that autism gets during April but by the time May comes there is a cloud of neglect that is cast over the autism community.
What society needs to realize is that for families of individuals with autism, we are aware of it every single day. We are aware of the challenges that come with raising a child on the autism spectrum. We are aware of the lack of resources and support for our families. We are very aware of the thousands of dollars that we have to spend to fight for our children to get an appropriate education. Trust me we are aware.
Now some may say that we need autism awareness month. They may say that we need it to make the public aware. I honestly believe that the public is aware. They may not have a deep understanding of what autism is but they know that it exists. So how do we evolve to become a society that completely accepts people who are on the autism spectrum?
Without understanding and acceptance, then autism awareness month becomes nothing but a stage play. A stage play with props that include blue light bulbs, sensational media coverage, and awareness walks.
I propose that we begin to move forward beyond awareness to a place of acceptance. Acceptance means to bring autism families into the larger fabric of society, so we do not feel like we are hanging onto the fringes waiting for crumbs.
As a part of this larger fabric, we will begin to get access to funding for services, special education, and insured medical care. We will begin to feel that our vote means something to our elected officials. We will begin to get quality schools regardless of our zip code. We will begin to get great programs for young adults who have aged out of the school system. We will begin to listen to adults on the autism spectrum and respect their voice.
Acceptance means so many things. It goes beyond the fluff of the autism awareness month celebrations. It goes deep into our core as a society. Many great speakers have equated a society’s strength to how it treats its weakest members. I think this is also true when looking at how people with autism and other disabilities are treated in this country.
To the autism community I say, we have to do better to keep our leaders accountable. Our votes should mean something. We need legislation that can propel our loved ones forward as valuable members of society.
Autism is not just a sound bite during the month of April. Autism affects real families who are trying their best to help their loved ones make it in a world that has only taken baby steps toward acceptance. As we head into May, I implore all of you to do what you can to move us forward beyond awareness. I implore all of you to move us toward acceptance.