Monday, April 3, 2017

Autism Awareness Month- Friend or Foe

It's been a while since I've blogged because it's been a rough month with the death of a friend, taking algebra, illnesses, and trying to keep up with kids activities. I'm taking the time to write right now, though, because April is Autism Awareness Month. As with most issues, there are two sides to this movement: those who get behind it and support it wholeheartedly... Facebook is decked out, wearing blue, buying merchandise.... and those who hate it completely. Believe it or not, I fall somewhere in the middle.

How can you hate Autism Awareness you ask!?!?! Easy. The same way people become disenfranchised with awareness for any other cause. Often times, it's a lot of talk and not a lot of action. It's puzzle pieces and blue shirts but still an overwhelming lack of funding for therapies, necessary medications, and education. It's awareness profile pictures on Facebook but government regulations that do more to damage 504s, IEPs, and rights for special needs kids than help them. It's a month of talking about how we need to be accepting of others and our uniquenesses, and then May rolls around, and it's forgotten for another 11 months leaving parents struggling to fight for what they need on their own again. And for many, it's a focus on spreading awareness about autism in children while adults struggle to find any help at all and struggle with the mental health issues and social aspects of something that even many in the autism community seem to ignore.

It's people spending a lot of money on autism awareness THINGS but little on help. There are a lot of individuals on the spectrum that don't support many of the autism awareness groups because they feel that money isn't allocated correctly, that they do more to cater to families of those on the spectrum rather than those actually on the spectrum, or that they aren't accurately represented. I honestly think that all of these are valid concerns.

However, the reason I can't say that I don't support Autism Awareness Month is because I have seen how much a basic knowledge and understanding of ASDs can make a difference. Dexter's second-grade teacher was kind enough to let me into the classroom to talk to them about Asperger's. We watched an Arthur episode that explained it, and then I let them ask me all of the questions they had. We talked about how and why he gets mad, his issues with being touched, why he doesn't usually want to play with other kids. They were free to talk about everything; ask anything. His classmates understanding him makes a huge difference. Having all of our friends and family members understand him allows him to be interacted with in a way he feels comfortable and respected. He's not looked at as a ticking time bomb or treated with kid gloves because they get how to respect his feelings and his space. This makes it easier for him to just be himself.

What I want from this month isn't for people to go out and buy all of the autism awareness stuff they can find (I do kind of want a sweatshirt) or get puzzle piece tattoos to match mine (although you sure can!) What I want is for people to spread awareness that autism is something that has many sides. It's tough. But it's also funny, compassionate, educational, and complex. I want people to understand that I don't DEAL WITH my son or my husband. I don't TOLERATE that part of them and more than they tolerate my outgoing extroversion. One is not more right than the other.

Dexter is a compassionate, dog loving, M&M eating, video game playing, inquisitive 8-year-old. Shawn is an adventurous, travel loving, education seeking, comic reading, committed parent and husband. They both happen to be on the spectrum. This month is Autism Awareness Month. It's not meant to teach you to be aware of their freakish differences. It's meant to make you aware that the way you live isn't the only way to live. I love this month because you should take a minute to see that people learn differently. They want and need different kinds of relationships. It's ok to not want to be hugged or to not like loud noises. The point of this month is to remind the world that different isn't wrong. Sometimes you just have to be willing to change the way you think about something.

Look at it from their perspective... I'm going to come up to you and squeeze you, restrict your movement, and hang on you. You should like this and accept it from everyone. Even people you only see occasionally. And you do. It's called a hug. Who is the weird one now?