Autism Awareness After April Ends

If you haven’t figured it out from all the Justin Timberlake memes, in a week, it’s gonna be May. According to all the pre-J.T. social media posts, that means that people will suddenly revert back to being Autism UnAware.

When your family has a member with Autism, April’s blue-tinted month of acceptance can sometimes be met with a sarcastic tone. After all, we’re aware of my son’s Autism every day. Wearing puzzle pieces or giving dollar bills to the school on April 1st doesn’t make us any more aware. All it does is leave me asking, “Who do I call about picking up some of those dollar bills? Me and Lucas would like to hit a Friendlys before April ends.”

Nope. No one gives you the dollars.  I learned that lesson years ago when my wife showed me a form from my son’s Autism preschool asking for Christmas gift donations. The premise was that it was to “help those affected by Autism in their time of need during the season.” I became indignant.

What? That’s silly. Why would they give us free presents? We don’t need free presents. Come on. We’re not going to take presents from the school just because our kid has Autism.

My wife stared at me for a moment. I could tell she was confused about whether I was kidding. I wasn’t sure why because I was totally serious. After what felt like a brief eternity, she replied in a matter-of-fact tone that felt, well, justifiably condensing.

They’re not giving you gifts. They are asking YOU to give the gifts.

My entire world view suddenly pivoted. I was now annoyed for the opposite reason.

Why would we donate gifts when we are affected by Autism? Shouldn’t they be giving US gifts?

Weren’t you literally just arguing against that?

I was. I mean, I am. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s difficult to be under a magnifying glass for a month. It’s a puzzling time when others are thrusting their awareness at you. People ask things that you might not know how to answer. Kids come running up to you like a Hulk Hogan training montage from the 80s with questions about your kid. It’s great, if not a bit overwhelming at times. For 30 days, you feel like a celebrity.

afteraprilWhat makes Autism Awareness Month so unique is that it’s not something people are supposed to be aware of for themselves. For skin cancer or diabetes awareness, the idea is to make sure those unaware get screened and checked. Autism is different. It’s less self-centered. The goal isn’t to make people get tested for Autism.

Instead, it’s about being aware that people on the spectrum exist. It’s about kindness and acceptance. At its core, it’s really just about being nice to others.

For that reason, April’s month of awareness always confused me. If being aware of someone with Autism makes you more likely to accept them, despite behaviors that might seem different to your own, why does Autism even make a difference? The reason they act differently than you isn’t as important is how you respond to it. Why can’t we just be accepting of anyone, no matter the reason?

Autism Awareness, in my mind, isn’t about completing a knowledge checklist on what Autism is. You don’t need to know what my son likes to eat or what toys he specifically likes to play with. His progress is very different than the progress of someone else on the spectrum in the same way that your progress is very different than someone else your age. We are all individuals. We all, on or off spectrum, are unique.

To me, Autism Awareness is about being aware of my son. It’s about saying hello even if you might not receive an immediate reply. It’s about knowing that if you are ignored, it’s not done out of malice. His attention is more difficult to earn than most, so it might take some time or some prodding. Either way, he’s not being rude. He’s being him. If you’re patient, though, he’s fantastic.

That shouldn’t end in May. The idea of including people with Autism in your daily interactions shouldn’t be limited to the month that you tint your profile pic blue. It should be year-round. It should be something you always do and something you always teach your children.

We’re all different than one another. Someone doesn’t have to be on the Autism spectrum in order to see the world differently. Being kind to a child like Lucas is exactly how you should be to anyone who might be different than you. It’s what we’re supposed to be teaching our kids from birth. Being “Autism Aware” is really just about being accepting to all people. It’s about being accepting to ourselves. It’s about giving us permission to be who we are.

We don’t get dollars and we don’t need presents. In fact, we don’t really need anything. We just ask that you treat our boy the same way you would treat any other person. If that way isn’t polite and kind, then that’s a problem you should work on. And it has nothing to do with Autism.

April may be ending, but we all share this world. Let’s stay aware of each other all year. It would make all our lives much better.