We are now in the heart of April and Autism Awareness Month. I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a blog to this topic. Within the autism community, there is awareness, advocacy, and acceptance.
The idea of Autism Awareness Month is to spread the message to the world community at large that we need to raise awareness and dispel myths and calm fears that sometimes permeate the general population about topics that are unknown or new. And whether we like it or not, we have Jenny McCarthy to thank for raising autism awareness to unprecedented heights.
Raising awareness is important. If you want people to have more information about a topic, first and foremost you have to make them aware that the topic exists. But where do you go from there? People may be aware of something but are they really thinking about it daily? If something does not impact your life on a regular basis, it is only human not to give it a second thought. We have to make people care about autism, not just in April but all year long. How do we put autism at the forefront of the general public’s mind? One word: Advocacy.
Many people are aware of autism. We need to move from awareness to acceptance, and the best way to do that is to advocate for our loved ones whose lives are impacted by autism. We need to advocate for better educational services. We need to advocate for better services as our kids begin transitioning to adulthood. We need to advocate for sensitivity to those who differ from the norm. There are so many issues for which we need to advocate, and the best place to begin is within our own homes and with our own families. I cannot think of a better example than my son, Joey.
Joey is fourteen years old. He is not on the autism spectrum, and he does not have issues with socialization or learning. What Joey does have is a heart of gold. He is fiercely protective of Debbie, and without me even realizing it, he goes to great lengths to advocate for her.
Joey has a lot of friends, some of them have known Debbie for a long time. These friends accept her and autism. But then there is a separate group of his friends who have never met Debbie. They only know she exists because of the “R” word. Yes, the word “retarded” is still an unfortunate part of the middle school lexicon. This is where advocacy steps in and takes charge. Joey has told his friends that they are not to use that word around him because of his sister. He has told them it’s rude, it’s wrong, and it’s hurtful.
Joey does not tell his friends to stop because I have told him to stick up for his little sister. He tells them to stop because it is the right thing to do. Debbie has been his sister for twelve years. Advocating for her and others in similar situations comes to him naturally. Joey accepts Debbie and autism. By advocating for her and others, he is raising autism awareness and, hopefully, instilling acceptance of everyone in his friends. At the very least, he is helping them to be more understanding of and sensitive to autism and the words they choose to use.
One day our kids will become adults. They will need lots of Joeys in the world to help them succeed. They will need awareness, advocacy, and acceptance – not just in April but each and every day of the year. Be the difference! Be the change! Autism awareness. Autism advocacy. Autism acceptance.
xoxox ~ Julie