April is Autism Awareness month. I am assuming if you are reading this blog you are already pretty much aware of what autism is, although I would appreciate it if you could share it with as many of your non-autistic friends as you can – not for any selfish reasons – simply because the point of this blog, and this month, is to raise awareness about autism. What I want to talk about for the most part in this blog is what type of awareness is raised. Many people have very negative impressions of autism. A lot of the time this is because they are presented with a certain image of it, so that`s all they know. It is the same with things such as Tourette’s or Down`s Syndrome. There are a whole number of different stereo-types out there, but that is not particularly what I am talking about in this blog. A lot of the time people will try and raise awareness, but they will do so in a way that is very soppy and sentimental. Now there is a place for sentimentality, but the worry is that people will think that people with autism should be looked on with pity rather than with respect. For me the best thing you can do is simply get the facts out there – that`s what people need to know. A lot of the time people will post things that present autistic children as being nothing more than a burden, and parents of autistic children as being super-heroes for putting up with them. Now all parents need an out-let, and most of the stuff they put up is fine, but contrary to popular belief, parents of autistic children are not super-heroes; they are just decent people and good parents who get on with their job as parents – dealing with any challenges that autism throws up is just one more aspect of this. Also, when people say things like `people with autism are special and unique` well, everybody is unique, having autism has nothing to do with that. There also seems to be a general feeling in a lot of areas – or certainly I get this feeling from a lot of the material I see – that people with autism aren’t members of society equal to everybody else, rather they are a group of people who need to be pitied. I know this is the same for a lot of people who have various disabilities or conditions, but I am focusing on autism in this blog.
Below are some points relating to Autism Awareness:
- People with autism are no more special than anybody else.
- There is a place for sentimentality, but ultimately people need to hear facts to understand about autism.
- A lot of the things out there seem to simply be designed to make parents feel better about themselves rather than actually help anyone.
- If somebody doesn’t have a good understanding about autism and they read some of this material, then of course they are going to think that people with autism are incapable of doing things for themselves.
- There are so many elements to autism – and yes, a lot of them are negative – but there are also a lot of positives to be gained, and some materials that try to raise awareness don`t really make these obvious.
- It is important that you don’t raise awareness of autism as something that should be cured, or as something that is wrong with people.
- When collecting money for autism related charities it is important that people don’t give you the money because they feel sorry for people with autism, and that you don’t present people with autism as being pitiable – People should give money because they want people with autism to have the same opportunities as everybody else, and not because they feel sorry for them the same way they might do an abandoned dog.
- On that note I believe that all charities that raise money for people with autism need to have autistic people in positions of power, otherwise it gives the impression of a group of neuro-typcial people patting themselves on the back saying `aren’t we good helping these autistic people?` without having any genuine understanding of autism.
Overall, I think helping to raise awareness of autism can only be a good thing, as long as it is done in the right way. It is a fairly sensitive issue and there are lots of ways to get it wrong, but like everything related to autism, it should be led by autistic people as they are the only true experts on autism.
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