Friday, April 29, 2011

Autism Awarness Month

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April is coming to a close, which means that all the blogs I read about Autism will stop the whole awareness thing. To me, that's a good thing. Not that the dialogue about autism isn't important, but that I feel as if all the sources I gain valuable insight and awareness from take a vacation to educate the autistic-laymen about very vague and general things.

This hiatus, for the most part, doesn't add anything to my life or my son's life and frankly, based on the comments I hear from outsiders, Autism Awareness Month didn't really educate anyone. I don't blame this on anything in particular, except our society's keenness on packaging all medical disorders into a nice, little, pretty box suitable for a sound-byte here and there or 5 minute blurb on the news.  Five minutes because its an awareness month and they are being generous.

If everything were cancer, it would be so much easier. (That seems to be my new mantra lately because our family is faced with conditions that are complex.) While there are many sorts of cancer, the root of the condition is fundamentally the same. With autism, it has some similar components, but experiences and affects of the condition vary greatly between individuals. The core of condition being fundamentally misunderstood by many, many people.

One core of the pieces is social functioning. What the media tells us is that autistic people lack the ability to empathize and feel emotions. This is incorrect and does a huge disservice to everyone having autism or caring for those affected. Autistic people have emotions, feel emotions and are capable of empathy. What they have is difficulty processing emotions. Social situations and feelings become entirely to intense and overwhelming to deal with, so they shut down. It's system overload, not an absence of a system.

A big, disturbing thing I hear from people is "I hope your son grows out of it". No one grows out of autism. They learn to adapt, learn to cope, and learn to fit into our society (which I'm not sure is inherently good) as best they can. And when an autistic person works their tail off to deal with stigma, bullies, boobs, dummies, bigots, liars and other socially icky but acceptable "normal" people throughout their life, they have to deal with idiots who say things like "you don't seem autistic, you seem normal". Well, duh, because they've worked hard to blend in-- a lot harder than neurotypical people work to be good citizens. (And as far as learning to deal and cope, those social issues aren't the only things autistic people have to work on. There are sensory problems, motor skills, anxiety, depression and a plethora of other components.)

Until these two things are adequately addressed, Autism Awareness is a moot point. Yet, we still take the focus off of helping people with autism to educate our fellow Americans about this grand spectrum. Except we don't talk to many autistic adults. We don't share enough real stories. We don't get the message across that debunks these myths and social stigma. We aren't telling enough people that are not enough services, interventions and supports for families. There are less resources for adults-- but more and more of these autistic children are becoming adults (cause, duh, they don't turn 18 and grow out of it, there is no autistic egg timer that dings when you're done with autism).

I am glad we are going back to non-autism-awareness in May. My only goal is to help my son and educate those around him. It's that act that is going to make people aware. It starts at home and spreads out of doors, into the homes of our friends and family.

Of course, I can't really say what's wrong or right with Autism Awareness Month or what we should be made aware of as well as this person, an autistic person, in this blog: Illusion of Competence.

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