Buildings and landmarks around the world will “light it up blue” tomorrow in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day. Tweets will be tweeted, Facebookers will Facebook, millions will wear blue and feel they have done their part in the autism awareness revolution. While all of this goes on, parents and loved ones that support a child with autism will feel like the missing puzzle piece is nowhere near to be found.
The truth about autism awareness is that just knowing the disorder exists is not enough to truly make a difference in autism awareness. It is only when we are truly aware of what the problem is, that we can solve it.
The problem of autism the disorder itself cannot and will not be solved. It is untreatable. But the biggest problem that people with autism face is not that they have autism. It’s that they are treated differently because of it.
That problem is treatable. That problem is treatable with authentic autism awareness. That’s what World Autism Awareness Day is really about, actually being aware of the amazing gifts that come with a child with autism.
The Guardian reports on a survey by the National Autistic Society that reveals only one in six adults with autism are able to be employed and stay employed. The reason for this has nothing to do with their developmental matters, and everything to do with the fact that “bullying in the work place is on the rise.” That is a treatable problem.
That is the problem that World Autism Awareness Day is trying to solve.
Awareness is more than just knowing someone with autism and putting a sticker on a door or bumper and expressing politically correct care and feigned support. More often than not, some of the very same people tweeting and Facebooking about autism awareness, or putting stickers on their door, are the same ones disenfranchising a child with autism with poor care, or even refusing actual gifts from a child with autism.
It happens every day. That is the most difficult part of having autism. That is the awareness that must come to the surface in World Autism Awareness Day.
Engaging autism awareness means one is fully and completely aware of how amazing these individuals with autism really are. It also involves standing against those that make life more difficult for children and adults with autism. Knowing about what is the actual disorder also helps.
The Center for Disease Control says that autism affects one in 68 children and is more common in boys than girls. For boys, autism rates are one in 42, and for girls, one in 189.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, and this means that the disorder involves a “range of conditions” that is characterized by challenges with social skills, repeat behaviors, speech, and sometimes non-verbal communication, says Autism Speaks.
The word “spectrum” means some people with autism have all of these symptoms and more and would be on the “low-functioning” or “non-verbal” portion of the spectrum. Some people only struggle with one or two of these things and are on the “high-function” end of the spectrum. Every child is different. You can’t tell by looking at someone that they have autism, most of the time.
Award-winning author Ellen Notbohm has written Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew. She says, “The greatest tragedy that can befall a child with autism is to be surrounded by adults who think it’s a tragedy.”
Every autism parent on the planet wishes that every person on the planet knows this too.
The word “awareness” from the Cambridge Dictionary is defined as “understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience.”
That means wearing blue is not going to cut it for autism awareness, unless you already know how awesome children with autism really are because you’ve made the effort to actually be aware.
60 Minutes recently highlighted a new effort that is happening on Sesame Street. In their efforts to educate and entertain the world, a new girl has arrived on Sesame Street. Her name is Julia, and Julia has autism.
Christine Ferraro, writer for Sesame Street, said this about autism in her interview with 60 Minutes.
“It’s tricky because autism is not one thing, because it is different for every single person who has autism. There is an expression that goes, ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.'”
CBS News reports that Julia was brought to Sesame Street after extensive research with autism organizations, in order to determine what characteristics of autism she would show so that autism would be better understood by children all over the world.
Dr. Andrea Libutti has also written about the understanding required for autism awareness in the Huffington Post. She has a child with autism and described the wonder she experienced when she became aware of his amazing intelligence and unique gifts of learning.
“One day he had a fifty piece USA puzzle map made out of cardboard pieces, each piece carved in the shape of a state. He was doing one of his favorite activities, ear to the floor dropping each piece with intense focus.”
Dr. Libutti then describes how she would pick up one of the states and ask him which one it was, and he knew it every single time. She thought it was just luck. So she would pick them up again and again, and her child could identify the states by simply their shape. There are not many adults that would be able to perform this activity.
“It was remarkable and it changed the way I interact with him. Instead of fear and an insistent to stop him, I actually stood in awe of him. Being in awe of someone is a lot different than feeling fearful and confused. A child knows and feels the difference between those vibes.”‘
Children do know. And autism children know even more. Hypersensitivity to stimuli is another characteristic of autism that is completely under-rated when it comes to understanding and awareness.
Educators and support workers get it. Children with autism often have difficulty in crowds for example. They are hypersensitive to the noises from crowds, and it sounds like marching bands in their heads.
Their emotional pain is equally hypersensitive, or they have “heightened acuity” as Dr. Libutti puts it in the Huffington Post. They do not understand bullies, and their heightened acuity means they feel ripped in two when bullying happens to them.
They also have a unique sixth sense socially, even though they do not know how to say so out loud. They know who “gets it,” and who doesn’t. An autism child may have problems expressing love, but they can feel it just like any other human being on the planet can, with the exception of sociopaths who are clinically unable to do so.
As Dr. Libutti writes, the world can draw out this love by changing the way they interact with those with autism. She says, “They will certainly be more open to connecting and relating with someone who reveres them versus disapproves of them.”
She describes the silent world of autism, and how even silence from someone with autism is information. She says the differences a child with autism has are “likely strengths in disguise.”
That is the awareness the world must have on World Autism Awareness Day. Every parent believes their child is gifted. But every autism parent knows it. At least, autism parents and people that truly love a child with autism do, these are the ones that focus on the strengths and not on the weaknesses. That’s what autism awareness is.
Who wants to be reminded of what they can’t do all of the time? We all can’t do things. But we all succeed when we learn, understand, and become aware of what we can do. And we can all do something well. So too can children with autism, we just need to become aware of what that “something” is, and help them as well.
Their gifts are infinite. Their memory skills are literally out of this world. Many that are musically inclined can replay an entire song on the piano after hearing it once. Their artwork shows a side of the world that only they can see. And it is incredible.
Dr. Asunu Thong writes for Morung Express and also has a child with autism. She says she thanks God every day for the “unique opportunity to become parents of a special child.”
She also says she wants to “encourage those parents whose children may be an under achiever in the eyes of the world, who may not look and act normal like other children.” She says once you look past what the world sees what is wrong, you see what is right, and see those children as true gifts.
That is what World Autism Awareness Day is really all about. It’s about seeing how amazing these children are, instead of seeing them as something that doesn’t belong, or something that went wrong. When the world understands that and collectively comes to this awareness, is when the last puzzle piece will lock in.
When they succeed, we succeed. Employment rates will go up, job retention rates will go up, college applications will increase, the list is infinite.
On World Autism Awareness Day, you can use the hashtag #LIUB to show you Light It Up Blue for autism awareness, and sign up with Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue page to share your stories.
[Featured Image by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images]