Today is considered World Autism Awareness Day as part of Autism Awareness Month. What exactly does “awareness” mean to me? It is a sense of knowing and understanding that requires honest dialogue and listening from those on and off the spectrum.
Every single moment of my life is related to autism. I had always known my younger brother was on the severe end (back when resources were scarce) but I didn’t know about myself until towards the end of middle school. Around that time, two separate articles were published about my brother and with it was the fact that I was on the spectrum; I suppose this makes it public knowledge but my friends glanced over it/never read that part. I pushed that aspect aside until that day last year when that one organization published that piece (I refuse to mention them by name).
Since then, I continue to explore my identity through writing and video as well as discussing this with some of my peers. It has not been easy but if it was, I wouldn’t learn. Recently, I got a paper back that discussed who I was and got a perfect score on it. I was excited, considering all of us in the class had to revise a few times. Depending on how things go, I might publish this or send it to “This I Believe”, the end goal of the assignment.
As a whole, where is this sense of autism awareness in 2014? Well, the 1 in 66 statistic was released last week, but that includes the new changes to the autism diagnostic system in the DSM-V. Is it a matter of autism occuring more frequently or a matter of precautionary labeling? Neither I nor anyone knows for sure. From theories of the causes (notably the vaccine argument) to the idea that this is part of evolution (hmm), it’s a minefield.
The characterization of what autism is in popular media is still a work in progress. It has been many years since Rain Man (not accurate in some aspects) but what do we have? Sheldon Cooper, Abid Nadir, Sherlock Holmes, and Max Burkholder. The first two are speculated, the third one has a fleeting reference to Asperger’s, and the last one is confirmed in-story. Are these positive/accurate portrayals? Not all of the time. But what about shows for the kids? The only one I am aware of is Carl from the Arthur episode “When Carl Met George” and since then that character has never been seen since. Anything else is passed off as a secondary plot device. As someone who plans to be in the film/television business, I hope to help create and provide postive examples.
Then there’s today’s specific event, Light it Up Blue. NO. It does not promote awareness about autism but rather awareness for a certain organization. Does changing the lights of a city to blue (specifically the organization’s shade of blue) establish solidarity or encourage honest discussion that should happen every day, not just April 2 of every year? Not for me.
Today, the only blue I have on me is on my jeans and that’s out of practicality, not for symbolism. I do not have a shirt that says anything about it, only because of the names on the shirt. The lights will stay the same in my house.
If you do know somone on the spectrum, listen to what they have to say. Don’t assume anything. Have patience and allow yourself to be open to any discussion. If you feel like making a donation, please do some research on the organizations before you make the payment. Nothing’s worse than money wasted for the wrong reasons.