Replace Autism Awareness With Autism Acceptance

By Mari Nosal M.Ed


 

I was pondering how quickly last year flew by. A random thought popped into my mind. We are a mere 2 months away from autism awareness month. Yes, I am thinking way ahead here. :-))  The infamous month when ponds are filled with blue die. Blue lightbulbs twinkle in the evening sky shining like a large star from the top of famous buildings such as the Empire State building.

Other individuals will display their personal autism symbols be it a logo colored gold or a symbol that displays a multicolored prism of the rainbow to symbolize the individuality of the autism population. I am several months ahead of myself here but decided to present some early food for thought.

Personal beliefs aside, I propose changing autism awareness month to autism acceptance year. I will now present my reasoning behind this statement.

Autism awareness, what does this really mean? Logos, colors and symbols that represent autism awareness are prevalent during the month of April. People equate the symbols with the autism spectrum. However, being aware that autism exists and comprehending what the autism spectrum is composed of, the challenges faced by families, children and adults who live with autism 12 months out of the year is a totally different and pressing issue.

For these individuals, autism awareness does not end when April comes to a close and all the symbols and autism awareness programs that are plentiful during April disappear and society at large goes on with their daily lives as autism awareness month becomes a distant memory in their minds. For individuals living with autism and those that love them, autism does not end in April. They are extremely aware that autism exists because the challenges connected with the autism spectrum are enmeshed in their daily lives. It is a lifestyle for them that defines how they live. Individuals who live with or have loved ones on the spectrum have gained awareness through experience. They perceive autism from the perspective of life experience which is quite different then equating a logo with autism and leaving it at that.

 

Awareness’ is resultant from knowledge. Knowledge can only occur through interaction with individuals and families on the spectrum and educating the public at large. People tend to fear the unknown due to lack of understanding. Through education and interactions fear is diminished and a level acceptance is created. Tolerance should not be an ultimate goal either, as tolerance merely means that society tolerates a certain population. ie People tolerate mosquitoes at a cookout yet find them annoying at the same time. People on the spectrum and their families are human beings who should not merely be tolerated but accepted and embraced as meaningful members of society.


Lets create a society where autism colors and logos are equated with action. Support and seek to understand the challenges of those on the spectrum by spending time with them. If you are a neighbor of a family with a child on the spectrum, stop by their house with a coffee for the parents and visit them to chat for a while. These families often feel isolated, they often feel like outliers in society and would welcome visitors who wish to chat with them.

Take their child out to give parents a break. Encourage your own children to include kids on the spectrum in their play. Yes, even if your child must adapt their play to include a special needs child. In doing so you will teach your neurotypical child a life long lesson, respect for others differences. Offer to babysit so parents can spend much needed one on one time with typically developing siblings, spend time with their husband, or merely allow a sleep deprived parent to take a much needed nap.

An increase in educational programs would provide a venue to educate the public. Schools incorporating special needs education as required parts of their curriculum, all parents attending required special needs presentations at the beginning of each school year to gain an understanding of the challenges facing kids with special needs and required in-services on a regular basis for educators. Perhaps students could be offered a course where they are paired up in class with a student on the spectrum which they mentor and engage in their activities throughout the year. I realize we have a minimal amount of voluntary programs like this across the country. (The majority of these programs focus on children) Considering the inclusive environment we live in, I would propose this special needs program as mandatory for graduation. It would prove to be a valuable as all kids will go on to work in companies with differently abled individuals as adults.

Aside from educating society on the challenges of families and individuals on the spectrum ,we must also shine a light on their capabilities. Everyone learns through experience, not merely digesting factual information. Towns could start photography clubs, art classes, writing workshops, dance competitions that display the talents of people with challenges and their successes. Interview them in the local newspapers and display them as productive members of society, not merely individuals and families to be pitied. They do not want your pity, they wish for understanding and acceptance. Through this action, society at large will open a venue for society to understand and appreciate the talents special needs individuals embrace and not merely see them as being destined to be supported by society. You see, with your help they not only support themselves but live work and play side by side with neurotypical individuals who embrace them into society.
Education programs within colleges across the world would prove a prudent move to increase autism classes offered as mandatory within their curriculum. Schools and life in general is so inclusive now that there is an increased need in assisting future educators by squelching myths and misnomers and teaching the educators of tomorrow how to hone the skills that people on the spectrum posses. They are no different than you or I. They wish to live a fulfilling life just like anyone else


Include individuals on the autism spectrum when offering presentations. After all, who knows what it is like to live on the spectrum than an autistic individuals themselves. Invite parents of special needs kids to speak at presentations. They have lived experience and would prove to be an asset providing knowledge and experience that cannot be found on Google.

Offer to drive an individual on the spectrum who has no license to school, the store, doctors appointments etc. Highlight the skills of an autistic individuals who may excel in math, English, science and more by inviting them to tutor a neurotypical individual who struggles in that subject. Remember, and individual may struggle with specific academics yet excel in others. By turning the tables we focus not only on their deficits but challenges as well.

I have performed acts such as sending 75 of my books to a developing country so parents and educators who otherwise could not afford my books were provided with the gift of knowledge. Neurotypical authors of books on the spectrum could hone the artistic skills of an individual on the spectrum to illustrate one of their books, thus providing an opportunity for experience and employment. Allow someone on the spectrum to write the forward for your book. After all, if you are writing a book about the spectrum, shouldn’t you include someone with lived knowledge that a neurotypical could not possibly possess?

The opportunities to increase understanding regarding the autism spectrum is only limited by your imagination. What will you do to help someone or their family on the spectrum this year?

Autism Awareness month is upon us. What is awareness all about? I will start by posting a definition of awareness that I have mentioned in another post as well.
According to the Merriam Webster Encyclopedia, awareness means: “knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists”
Knowing that something exists, is not quite the same as fully supporting the issue. An example would be that we may see a homeless individual on the street and feel some empathy for there dilemma. This is an example of awareness of a situation. An individual may express concern for the homeless person’s situation, yet walk by them and go about their day. Rather then walking away, the individual who acts upon their concern and offers the individual a cup of coffee, etc. has learned from their level of awareness and used their knowledge to take action.
This said, I will not focus on whether an individual wears the color blue, which I am aware many individuals connect with Autism Speaks and present negative connotations towards this group. I do not care if an individual is wearing blue, orange, gold, or polka dots for that matter.

We may be surprised and find that the meaning of wearing blue for one individual during autism awareness month may not fit ones preconceived notions. I attempt to look beyond the colors and witness the individual’s actions and character as first and formost.

In not doing so, I would be presenting myself in a judgmental fashion akin with grouping African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, Indians, etc. into a preconceived belief system. Example in point: All Asians are not smart, all Indians are not rich because of casinos, all African Americans do not play basketball, and all Caucasians are not money hungry baseball lovers. I would be acting in an archaic manner and stepping back into another century where prejudice ran rampant in harboring these notions.

In the same fashion that “if we have worked with one autistic individual, we
have worked with all autistic individuals” This is a phrase that I personally abhor as there is a reason it is called the autistic spectrum. It is called a spectrum because there are many different degrees of autism. This ideology is an example of a preconceived notion as well. Individuals on the autistic spectrum present with varied personalities and needs, just like typically developing individuals do.

To take the idea of preconceived notions a bit further. One may assume a color is symbolic for a group or belief. For another individual, that color may symbolize something totally different. I will continue to favor the color blue because it is symbolic of something very different in my eyes.
For me, the color blue symbolizes promise. As I peer into the sky I see spring approaching after a gray dismal winter. I see a beautiful blue horizon that has taken on a distinctly sharper more vivid hue then was evident in the winter sky. While peering at the Spring sky, I see promise of green grass coming back to life, the return of birds tweeting outside my window.

In conjunction with autism, I connect the blue horizon that extends for miles into the atmosphere and over the ocean with realization that the autistic spectrum knows no boundaries. As the horizon is spread across the whole world in areas where our eyes cannot peer, the autism spectrum holds secrets that we cannot see. It holds the secret to individuals futures that we cannot see.

We do not have a crystal ball. i.e. a child that was not supposed to speak, ends up doing so, a child who’s parents were told to institutionalize them suddenly gains an awareness of their surroundings that no one expected, the child who was not supposed to toilet or self feed independently miraculously does so. As the horizon connects us all together although we are not aware of the activity onthe other side of the world, our children have a future path that we are not aware of.

As you can see, blue possesses a different meaning for me then it does for someone else. Lets get to know each other before making judgments. Focus on the advantages of autism awareness month. Breed awareness through your actions not preconceived notions. A color will not change the world but making a difference will. Help a family who is overtired from caring for children on the autism spectrum. Help the family do chores, watch their special needs child so they can get a few hours of uninterrupted rest or enjoy a cup of coffee alone at a restaurant.

Help an adult on the spectrum who cannot drive by giving him a ride to work or elsewhere. Offer to help him or her compose a letter if they struggle with writing skills. Teach a parent support class, offer to teach life skills for free to transitioning young adults. These are mere examples of focusing on not only awareness but acceptance and education for the autism spectrum as well.

Last but not least, do not stop with only making contributions during autism awareness month. Continue helping society to become accepting and a place where all on the spectrum can live, work, love and play 12 months of the year. For families and individuals affected by autism, autism awareness is a 24 – 7 life for them.

The blue lights in the Empire State building, the rivers tinted blue, (or gold or purple for that matter) will dissipate and soon be a memory. Your efforts within the autism community will make a lasting impact however. Parents and individuals affected by autism will still be living with it after April is nothing but a mere memory. As families and individuals live with autism seven days a week, let’s make a pact to stay action oriented seven days a week as well. Keep your focus on the goal. When there is no more blue what will you do?

In summary: Autism Awareness month is a mere several months away. What is awareness all about?
According to the Merriam Webster Encyclopedia, awareness means: “knowing that something (such as a situation, condition, or problem) exists”
Knowing that something exists, is not quite the same as fully supporting the issue. An example would be that we may see a homeless individual on the street and feel some empathy for there dilemma. This is an example of awareness of a situation. An individual may express concern for the homeless person’s situation, yet walk by them and go about their day. Rather then walking away, the individual who acts upon their concern and offers the individual a cup of coffee, etc. has learned from their level of awareness and used their knowledge to take action.
This said, I will not focus on whether an individual wears the color blue, which I am aware many individuals connect with Autism Speaks and present negative connotations towards this group. I do not care if an individual is wearing blue, orange, gold, or polka dots for that matter.

We may be surprised and find that the meaning of wearing blue for one individual during autism awareness month may not fit ones preconceived notions. I attempt to look beyond the colors and witness the individual’s actions and character as first and foremost.

In not doing so, I would be presenting myself in a judgmental fashion akin with grouping African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, Indians, etc. into a preconceived belief system. Example in point: All Asians are not smart, all Indians are not rich because of casinos, all African Americans do not play basketball, and all Caucasians are not money hungry baseball lovers. I would be acting in an archaic manner and stepping back into another century where prejudice ran rampant in harboring these notions.

In the same fashion that “if we have worked with one autistic individual, we
have worked with all autistic individuals” This is a phrase that I personally abhor as there is a reason it is called the autistic spectrum. It is called a spectrum because there are many different degrees of autism. This ideology is an example of a preconceived notion as well. Individuals on the autistic spectrum present with varied personalities and needs, just like typically developing individuals do.

To take the idea of preconceived notions a bit further. One may assume a color is symbolic for a group or belief. For another individual, that color may symbolize something totally different. I will continue to favor the color blue because it is symbolic of something very different in my eyes.
For me, the color blue symbolizes promise. As I peer into the sky I see spring approaching after a gray dismal winter. I see a beautiful blue horizon that has taken on a distinctly sharper more vivid hue then was evident in the winter sky. While peering at the Spring sky, I see promise of green grass coming back to life, the return of birds tweeting outside my window.

In conjunction with autism, I connect the blue horizon that extends for miles into the atmosphere and over the ocean with realization that the autistic spectrum knows no boundaries. As the horizon is spread across the whole world in areas where our eyes cannot peer, the autism spectrum holds secrets that we cannot see. It holds the secret to individuals futures that we cannot see.

We do not have a crystal ball. i.e. a child that was not supposed to speak, ends up doing so, a child who’s parents were told to institutionalize them suddenly gains an awareness of their surroundings that no one expected, the child who was not supposed to toilet or self feed independently miraculously does so. As the horizon connects us all together although we are not aware of the activity on the other side of the world, our children have a future path that we are not aware of.

As you can see, blue possesses a different meaning for me then it does for someone else. Lets get to know each other before making judgments. Focus on the advantages of autism awareness month. Breed awareness through your actions not preconceived notions. A color will not change the world but making a difference will. Help a family who is overtired from caring for children on the autism spectrum. Help the family do chores, watch their special needs child so they can get a few hours of uninterrupted rest or enjoy a cup of coffee alone at a restaurant.

Help an adult on the spectrum who cannot drive by giving him a ride to work or elsewhere. Offer to help him or her compose a letter if they struggle with writing skills. Teach a parent support class, offer to teach life skills for free to transitioning young adults. These are mere examples of focusing on not only awareness but acceptance and education for the autism spectrum as well.

Last but not least, do not stop with only making contributions during autism awareness month. Continue helping society to become accepting and a place where all on the spectrum can live, work, love and play 12 months of the year. For families and individuals affected by autism, autism awareness is a 24 – 7 life for them.

The blue lights in the Empire State building, the rivers tinted blue, (or gold or purple for that matter) will dissipate and soon be a memory. Your efforts within the autism community will make a lasting impact however. Parents and individuals affected by autism will still be living with it after April is nothing but a mere memory. As families and individuals live with autism seven days a week, let’s make a pact to stay action oriented seven days a week as well. Keep your focus on the goal. When there is no more blue what will you do?

 

That said, I will wish you a happy AUTISM ACCEPTANCE YEAR. Please remember, the autism symbols, colors and declarations of autism awareness will become a distant memory on May first for those who do not have loved ones or live with autism. For those families like mine, autism is something we live 365 days a year. Remember to continue, advocating, assisting, attempting to understand those who live with and interact with those on the spectrum daily. These individuals do not get put in a draw in may to be released next April. They are your co – workers, neighbors, classmates and hopefully become your friend.
May we all grow, interact, respect and gain a better understanding and appreciation of one another this year.

Thank you and let’s start advocating year round.

From the heart of Mari Nosal M.Ed

 

This article was originally published on LinkedIn: Pulse, reprinted with the author’s kind permission.

Author Image
Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE received her B.A. in psychology and her Masters degree in Educational Foundations from Curry College. She spent years as a school age coordinator, blogger and author, and has over 30 years’ experience within the human services and education fields. She has had special needs articles published in several magazines. Mari is a published author whose special needs Autism and Asperger related books can be found on Amazon.com Barnes and Noble and Createspace. She is certified by the Department of Early Childhood Education as a lead preschool teacher, an infant and toddler teacher, and site coordinator qualified to manage school age programs.
Mari also works with Non Profits, schools, and society at large as well. She conducts public speaking engagements that provide them with the tools and knowledge to help special needs children, (predominantly autism and Asperger (with her specialty being Asperger Syndrome) to become as independent and successful as possible.
Mari has presented autism workshops to staff, management teams, and parent groups. She offers tips on curriculum development and behavior modification within the classroom and through in-services. She is certified by the Department of Early Childhood Education as a lead preschool teacher, an infant and toddler teacher, and site coordinator qualified to manage school age programs.
Inquiries regarding availability for Workshops, Public Speaking Events, motivational speaking and training can be arranged via messaging on LinkedIn.

One thought on “Replace Autism Awareness With Autism Acceptance

  • Author Image
    March 3, 2016 at 12:59 am
    Permalink

    Mari,
    I so loved your article about autism acceptance rather than autism awareness. No logo can engender the experiences of families and relatives impacted by autism. With the incidence so glaringly exploding, public enlightenment is critical as much as possible.
    Opportunities for employment are sorely needed within real venues for those uniquely-gifted individuals who are competent and willing to work; this can be accomplished with different levels of support and more importantly, understanding that labels and diagnoses do not frame the worthiness of those on the with ASD. It must be Just clear that just as no two brains are exactly the same, neither are the personalities or capabilities of two individuals on the spectrum.

    Reply

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