It’s that time of year again to Light It Up Blue, and today is the day! April is Autism Awareness month. World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd. Many people put up blue lights or wear blue – all to join Autism Speaks to shine a light on Autism by raising awareness. It begins April 2nd and lasts all month long. Many are doing this in support of friends and family and many of us are living it every day and appreciate the extra awareness this brings!
But what is Autism Awareness? Last year I shared Brayden’s story – our son who is on the Autism Spectrum. I included how we discovered he is on the Autism Spectrum, what his diagnosis (PDD-NOS or high functioning Autism) really means, and our journey to diagnosis. If you don’t yet know our son’s story, I would love for you to read and share his story as well!
Why? Because it matters. Autism Awareness matters, and many of us are on this journey. In fact, 1 in 88 people are on the Autism Spectrum, but everybody’s journey is different. By sharing our personal journey I hope to reach others and raise more awareness. Brayden will be turning 9 this month, and I’m so proud of how hard he works to overcome his challenges.
I think we have made amazing strides in Autism Awareness, but I also think there is still a long way to go. I think one of the biggest challenges is understanding exactly how large the Autism spectrum is. As I mentioned in last year’s post, our son being high functioning on the Autism spectrum is both a blessing and a challenge. People who are high functioning on the spectrum are often misunderstood. Actually, I’m certain everyone on the Autism Spectrum is misunderstood, but those that are high functioning are often misdiagnosed or thought by others to just be “weird. Yes, many people have referred to Brayden as “weird” and it’s frustrating because they don’t understand he is on the Autisum Spectrum. To people who don’t see him every day or know him well besides “weird” we often hear things like “Oh, he’s just a boy.”
Just a boy? Boys are rambunctious for sure. We have two of them. Most boys like to ride bikes. Brayden can’t because his gross motor skills are weak and even with training wheels he tips the bike. Most boys like to play in the dirt. Brayden won’t because he doesn’t like to get dirty. In fact, getting dirty can cause a meltdown.
With time and therapy, Brayden has worked through his challenges and come a long way. It doesn’t change the fundamental fact, though, that he will always be a little different. And you know what? Different is OK. It’s who he is. Yes, there are things that are scary and we need to work on frequently – like hugging, kissing, and saying “I love you” to strangers is NOT OK. In the wrong situation, it could be dangerous. It brings a whole new meaning to not understanding “stranger danger.”
It’s the responses, though, that makes me aware that others aren’t aware. Responses to those inappropriate social gestures which expand beyond inappropriate affection to just saying whatever is on his mind and wanting to do everything his way – no matter what everybody else is doing. And yes, being rambunctious. It’s the dirty looks, the shocking looks, or the inappropriate comments (like saying someone is “weird!”). Even the reassuring comments like “oh, he’s just affectionate” aren’t helpful.
It makes me realize people don’t understand at all. I often have to explain he’s on the Autism Spectrum, but does it matter? Would they still react that way regardless? It’s an insensitivity people have to other people that are different. Would it be easier if he looked like he had a disability? Maybe, but sometimes even then I’m not sure.
To me, Autism Awareness is understand the Autism Spectrum – all of it from those that are non-verbal to those that may appear to just have a few quirks. They all have their own set of challenges. It’s about acknowledging the full spectrum and accepting it. Sometimes I think family members have the hardest time to accept someone is on the Autism Spectrum, but trying to make it into something it’s not – something that isn’t debilitating and totally innocent doesn’t help them progress to the level they could with the right kind of understanding, acceptance, and therapies they need.
It’s time to accept that there are 1 in 88 people that are on the Autism Spectrum, so when you interact with somebody that can’t look you in the eye, doesn’t seem to have a filter, interrupts what you’re saying, shies away from you, doesn’t speak back, hugs you when they just met you, screams at you when they just met you, or whatever that difference may be, accept that that’s who they are and don’t respond with shock, disgust, or even words of advice. Smile at them, smile at their parents if it’s their child, and know that a friendly response probably just made their whole day better. Even better? Teach your children to do the same!
Together we can make a difference!
Light It Up Blue
So will you be participating in Light It Up Blue this month? Check out World Autism Awareness Day on Facebook as well! Do you want to help? Visit my Light it Up Blue page to learn more and make a donation to Autism Speaks. Check out some of the amazing pictures and buzz shared across the web for those that are participating in Light It Up Blue!
Cedar Point is Participating in Light It Up Blue
Since moving to Ohio I have had the privilege of becoming a Cedar Point Blogger, and I was thrilled to discover they are participating in Light It Up Blue tonight! Check out their live feed! Here is just one of the rides (photo courtesy of Cedar Point):
Thank-you for participating in Light It Up Blue and helping to encourage Autism Awareness!