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Why I Won't Be Sharing the Posts About Autism That Go Viral

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It’s happened again this week. A post about a child with autism has gone viral. A mum posted on Facebook, and that post has been reported on all over the world (well I’ve seen it in America, the U.K. and Holland). My best friend sent me an app with the link, asking, “Have you seen this?” (I love her!) I hadn’t seen it, but when I did my heart sank a little bit… (If you haven’t read the piece, you can see the BBC version here.)

Posts like this always make me feel sad and disappointed because they appeal to the journalistic culture of pity or fear.

Firstly, my heart went out to this mother — how hard it must have been for her to know her son ate lunch alone, every day. But… where were the caring staff at school to support this child? Lunch times in a large space with lots of people are bound to be difficult for a child on the autism spectrum. Why wasn’t he being given more support?

Secondly, I applaud the mother of the football player, as she has obviously raised a kind, caring, intelligent young man. He saw a boy eating alone, sat with him and talked with him. But this is just a story about a man showing kindness. Why are we applauding his kindness? My husband shows kindness every single day — that is why I fell in love with him. In fact, today he helped a lady in a wheelchair. Thousands of people — therapists, doctors, teachers, etc. — work with our children and show amazing kindness too, but it isn’t front page news. Is it news because this football player is somewhat famous?

I am happy that the boy now has friends to eat lunch with, but it makes me sad that it took one famous adult to let them see the boy for who he really is. To get them to look beyond the awkwardness, the hand flapping, to really see him. Another case where autism awareness has not lead to acceptance.

When my nana, died my brother gave the eulogy, and he began with something that has sat with me ever since: “Her life was one filled with small kindnesses.”

Amazing, pure, simple and true. My nana was a beautiful woman, happy, fun but above all kind. It makes me sad to think we live in a world where many people have forgotten this simple message. If anything, this story demonstrates how one small kindness can have an enormous impact! But is kindness so rare that it deserves to be reported worldwide?

So, my friends, within your busy day, pause and think, and if you get the opportunity, please perform one small act of kindness. Raise your children to see kindness as the norm, not as a special action to be applauded. And think before you share…

I will not be sharing posts that prey on our pity or fear. I will instead share a store of the amazing athlete Mikey Brannigan, who ran the 1500m in less than 4 minutes in qualifying for the Paralympics. Oh, and he also happens to have autism. Did you hear about that? Good luck to all athletes taking part in the Rio Paralympics.

Originally published: September 9, 2016
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