Awareness and acceptance have been the new buzzwords in the autism community lately. No, let me correct that — autistic individuals and their loved ones have always wished for these, but people are talking about it now more than ever. So what exactly do these words mean? Are they just another shooting star or are they the guiding light for the rest of the world?
I wish I could pick up a microphone and chase people on streets, asking them these questions and figuring out society’s collective understanding when it comes to these two words. However, since that seems like a difficult proposition, I’ve decided to put forth my perspective of what it means when I say I want the world to be aware of what autism is and be more inclusive of kids with different needs.
To me, autism awareness is knowing that autism is not a disease but a set of developmental delays leading to social, communication, behavioral and sensory challenges.
Awareness is not just knowing that autistic people can have meltdowns, it’s also understanding what leads to these meltdowns and how we can help.
Awareness is knowing that not all autistic kids are geniuses with some social awkwardness, and it’s also knowing that not all autistic kids have intellectually challenges.
Awareness is understanding that each autistic individual is as distinct as any other person out there; that they don’t come out of a factory with the same set of “quirkiness.”
Awareness to me is knowing that autism is not just about flapping hands, spinning objects, repetitive behaviors and shutting ears. It can also be about working through challenges and breaking stereotypes. It is in knowing that Autistic people can also achieve the extraordinary if provided the right channel.
Awareness is understanding that autistic people are not “weird,” they are different in their own unique way.
Awareness is understanding that autistic individuals might retreat into their bubble often, but they are not invisible.
Awareness is not just knowing that there is a large percentage of autistic individuals out there but also understanding that they deserve a life of respect, too.
Awareness is understanding that autistic people might not all communicate the same way, but they still have a say.
Awareness is understanding that autism doesn’t have a “look” or a “face” to it.
Awareness is not just running marathons and lighting it up blue, it’s enlightening our minds, too.
Awareness is understanding that it is the path to acceptance.
Let’s talk about acceptance.
A lot of us are under the false notion that we embrace autism acceptance, but do we? It’s not acceptance if you have a special classroom for kids with different needs but you refuse to have them in the graduation parade or deny their award for their hard work. When there are autistic kids still being bullied, acceptance feels a long way from home.
Acceptance is not just calling an autistic kid over for a birthday party. It’s acceptance if you teach your kids to make the effort to connect with that child.
Acceptance is the pressing need to go to that child, that peer who might be sitting alone, reach out, and try to communicate and be a facilitator, if not a friend.
If you think you are doing an autistic individual a favor by offering him a job or an opportunity, it’s not acceptance. Acceptance is not when you condescend, it’s when you respect them for who they are.
Acceptance is not just smiling gently at an autistic child but also raising your voice when you see someone being unfair towards them. If you say nothing, you have still some distance to cover.
Acceptance is not just joining your friend in a walk or wearing a custom t-shirt saying how you stand by them. It is in teaching your family and your friends about appreciating the challenges that autism can bring and being a friend to people in the autism community.
Having a special day at school or a small classroom speech highlighting a peer’s autism sounds more patronizing than inclusive to me. How about actually creating more inclusive environment and making them part of the everyday classroom so all kids can learn the normalcy of co-existing. That, I would call acceptance.
To me, acceptance would be when every playground has kids of all needs playing with each other, when no kid is sitting alone in a cafeteria because he has needs different from others, when his sensory needs are not mimicked and laughed at but understood and accommodated. That would be acceptance to me.
Acceptance is when a video of a child walking hand in hand with an autistic child or a stranger helping a family with an autistic child is not one in a million but run of the mill.
Acceptance is more than just opening doors — it’s opening your heart and your arms, too.
While I ask for more understanding and inclusion from many, I also am thankful for those who have made the world a better place for people on the autism spectrum by their thoughts and actions.
Just like I wish the world to be free of war, poverty and hunger, I hope one day we will all learn to respect each other’s differences. That one day we will be more aware and more accepting of autism and every other disability.
Follow this journey on Tulika’s blog.
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