Not every worthy charitable cause gets an entire month dedicated to raising awareness. ‘Worthy’ being a completely subjective word because realistically speaking if it doesn’t affect your daily life or someone you love dearly, you are fairly unlikely to deem something worthy. What is quite possibly one of the largest medical epidemics of our time, Autism however, is very likely to touch your life in some way over the course of your lifetime, which is only part of the reason you should care about Autism Awareness Month.
The statistic for an Autism diagnosis in the United States is 1 in 68. Think about how many people you went to high school with or how many people were on your soccer team or how many people were in your fraternity or how many people you see at work on a daily basis. Even just going to the airport and boarding a plane or going to the mall. How many people are you going to encounter on any given day? I will bet on average that it’s greater than 68, yet many people still don’t think it’s important to know how to be helpful in situations that involve people who have Autism.
There are many reasons I’m thankful for Autism Awareness Month…Here are are a few that also present the case for why you should care too!
- Different Not Less is more than a hashtag. Knowing what to say or sometimes more importantly what NOT to say could really be an investment in not looking like a complete A-Hole in future situations. So maybe you won’t directly interact with someone with Autism, but at 1 in 68, you’re likely to encounter someone who does. I remember when we went out to dinner with another couple and the gentlemen (I use that word for referential purposes, not because I think he actually was one) stated that he thought Autism was evolutions way of implementing some kind of ‘survival of the fittest’ and that the gene pool was trying to weed these individuals out. I am not kidding. He actually said that. He obviously didn’t know our son had Autism at the time, but could you imagine if I were say his boss or a proposed business client?! He would have most certainly lost out on some kind of opportunity. Thank goodness for him I was just a “friend”. (I don’t have to tell you that was the last dinner we had together.) I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to their (in that case – stupid) opinions, but knowing that individuals with Autism are just as important as the next life and can offer many immeasurable contributions to our society are great reasons for Autism Awareness Month. You should care because being a compassionate person who is respectful and embracing of others differences is an essential quality of being a decent human being and also makes you extremely attractive.
- The invisible disability. I have been asked if those stories that people read online, you know the “Open Letter to the guy giving me a dirty look in the Target line”, do those really happen? Well, just yesterday I was cashing out and my son was having a complete stage 10 clinger melt down because I asked to borrow MY phone (which he was playing a game on) to scan my coupon app. So the years of ABA training says to ignore said “junk” behavior and make him “earn” the use of the phone back. I was killing it, winning at mom 101, feeling pretty good about the fact that I wasn’t caving in during this epic melt down with 4 people in line behind me, but when I told him that he would have to “earn it back”, the cashier rolled her eyes, circled something on the receipt and said “well I don’t blame you there”. I tell you this story not to prove that these scenarios do in fact happen and with quite regularity, but because if the cashier had been educated just enough to know that maybe this isn’t just a temper tantrum from a bratty kid wanting what they can’t have and that it’s actually an Autism moment that combines cognitive impairment, sensory over stimulation, and a non-verbal child transitioning to relinquish something that is the only thing holding them together at the moment, maybe she could have been more helpful. Educating the public that this is an invisible disability is vital and that sometimes what you think is happening in front of you is really something entirely different that only merits minding your own business or to tell the parent they are doing a great job. Snarky remarks just make you look ugly plus they are completely unnecessary. The old adage ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ would be good to employ here. Be smart, not judgy.
- You like your money and you probably want to keep it right? Maybe you think Autism Awareness Month is about raising a bunch of money for research. Why should you donate to a cause that you have nothing to do with and doesn’t affect you in any way? Guess what. It most certainly does affect you AND your pocket book. Let me tell you how. Let’s just say we don’t do any research or fund any project directed at helping individuals with Autism reach their highest level of independence. Fine. Now all of the 1 in 68 kids are grown up. None have the skills to live on their own so they are completely dependent on the government to pay for their housing, therapy, medication, assistance in every single day to day activity from going to the bathroom to feeding themselves. The government would go completely broke before you could blink. So they will have no choice other than to raise the taxes of every single American citizen to pay for these individuals to simply exist. You can probably say goodbye to Social Security while you’re at it. Obviously no one wants that. A lot of individuals with Autism have a really great shot at living an independent life if given the early intervention therapy and skills they need to do so. Their potential is so incredibly high, much higher than they are often given credit for. So if we give a little now, we save a ton in the future. I’m not very good at math, but the fundamentals say the more effort we give now, the better off everyones retirement is going to be and I’m looking forward to sitting on a far away beach someday.
- Siblings: My Brother’s Keeper & The Community. The harsh reality of families with an Autism diagnosis is that the siblings of the individuals with Autism will more than likely be their guardians after the parents pass away. We live in an era that has a lot less of a sense of community than we used to. Just a few decades ago everyone on the street would have pitched in to see that Sam was taken care of and checking in on him where as now it will probably isolate Sam’s siblings because of his disability. If the community we lived in had a better understanding of what Autism is and how to interact with not only individuals with Autism, but how to support the families of them, then everyone would feel more comfortable and everyone would be happier…leading directly to World Peace of course.
This month also means (to me) celebrating the teachers and therapists who work tirelessly for our children. Can you imagine having a career that you go to every single day, underpaid, working yourself thanklessly to the bone for no visible improvement in your product other than the hope that one day after countless repetition that some kind of progress is made? That’s maddening! Yet that’s what the teachers and therapists of special needs students do each and every day. So I like to take this month to celebrate the magical unicorns for which they are.
Speaking of magical unicorns, the friendships I’ve made along this journey are ones worth celebrating as well. Ask any number of people in the Autism community what Autism Awareness Month means to them and you’ll probably end up getting as many different answers as you would have if you had asked what did you eat for dinner last night? I asked some of my fellow Autism parents what this month means to them and here are some of their answers:
- It’s a bittersweet month. It’s nice to see the exposure, but Autism Awareness isn’t just a month for us, it’s permanent.
- Honestly, not much. There are more Facebook posts about it and people ask us to participate in walks and races…all the things we avoid because we have a child with Autism, but I hope it will make people think about it and help research in the long run.
- It’s one of those things that unless you are personally experiencing it you won’t want to or can’t understand it completely. It’s hard to bring true awareness to something with such a broad spectrum with so many unanswered questions. Especially how does it feels to those actually living with it since most of the individuals have a hard time expressing what it’s like in their world and even if they could express what it’s like, because each case is so different, so would be their experiences and the experiences of their care givers.
A very famous Army General (who will remain nameless) once said “One of our doctrines is: Live your values, and there are two arguments for living your values. One is you have the moral obligation to do it. It is the right thing to do. If you don’t buy that, you have a practical reason to do it, because every time you violate it, you pay for it.” Perfect examples for this post. So as we enter Autism Awareness Month this year, maybe we can come together not just for this month, but really try to be an active member of the community that we all are a part of. Thinking about how can we help each other and how we can be stronger and better together than we ever would be apart. Or because you want money to retire with someday, you want to be a contributing member of your community and you really do want world peace. All worthy reasons to support a worthy cause.