If you read this column, you might already know that April is Autism Awareness Month. If you read here, you are probably aware of autism. You know that there are huge numbers of autistic children and adults in our world. Hopefully you are ready to help these individuals with a smile, a job, a helping hand, or just some simple, straight-up understanding.
To me, autism awareness is intensely personal. My young (almost seven-year-old) son has autism. Every time I meet with the school for an IEP meeting, I put together a list of his struggles, strengths, and our goals for him. On top of the list of those goals is to teach him how to be a happily autistic person in a non-autistic world.
There is a lot I can do to help him achieve that goal. But we cannot do it alone. We need you.
See, we don’t just need you to be aware of autism, we need you to accept autism. We even, dare I say, need you to embrace autism. We need you to understand that diversity doesn’t just mean people of all different colors, faiths, and origins, but that it also includes people of different levels of disability and ability. Diversity encompasses neurological differences as well as physical differences.
Here is what I humbly suggest for Autism Awareness Month:
If you see the parent of an autistic child who is in your kid’s class at school, tell that parent that you’re glad their child is in your class. Tell your typically developing kids that even if some of their classmates are different, they can still be great friends. Offer a smile and a friendly face.
When you’re at the grocery store or the pizza joint and you see an employee who seems a little different, give him or her a smile. Tell them they’re doing a great job. Be sure to tell the manager that you’ll be coming back specifically because of their inclusive hiring practices.
Next time you’re out and about and you see a mom or dad struggling with their child, try not to judge them. Give them a kind smile and, if it seems appropriate, ask how you can help. If you see a twirling, flapping kid or one with his hands over his ears, grin and tell the parent that they have a cute kid.
These are little things to do. They are so little. But to a parent of a child with autism or to an adult with autism, they are huge. They are small ways to start the process of autism acceptance. They are the first steps in helping my son and others like him succeed. Help my little guy grow up into a world that will accept him for who he is and the unique gifts he has to offer.
Happy Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Embracement Month!