My Sweet Girl loves blue. Of course, she also likes green, pink, and purple, but she says she loves blue the best.
Last year she started to notice that her elementary school was taking part in encouraging the students ahead of time to wear blue and “light it up blue” for April 2nd in order to show solidarity and celebrate Autism. They teach the children about Autism and why it’s important to be accepting of differences, and how autistic children and teens and adults might think differently but are still just the same as everyone else. They show the children the positives, but also teach the children that there can be difficulties, challenges, obstacles, that might be hard for them to understand if they aren’t autistic themselves, and it’s very important to know that they don’t have to be afraid. They shouldn’t bully children that show autistic behaviors, but should be friends with them and protect them. They don’t have to accept being bullied themselves by anyone, and if they see a child that they think might have disabilities such as happens with Autism, they should speak up.
Now, this isn’t what my Sweet Girl told me. She came home and told me that the whole school dresses up on April 2nd in her favorite color, blue, especially and specifically to celebrate her. As a 6th grader she plans to wear blue tomorrow to celebrate herself.
I learned that this is what the elementary students are being taught by a neighbor’s daughter this morning because she was so excited to tell me about having learned about Autism in school to prepare for tomorrow. She’s excited to learn more, and she’s even more excited that she can share positive experiences with classmates because she’s at our house nearly every day. I remember how sad she was when she heard that there are people who would want to cure Autism and prevent people from being born with it. She immediately said, “But then there wouldn’t be awesome people like G!”
This morning my neighbor girl also told me how much she enjoys Sweet Girl and there are lots of things she loves that Sweet Girl does. Her very favorite thing is when I hold up my hand to give a high five, and Sweet Girl goes to give me a fist bump instead… but when I hold up my hand to give her a fist bump she puts up her own hand to give me a high five. She loves Sweet Girl’s sense of humor; she loves seeing how Sweet Girl can start her morning routine with the worst of moods and then change it around by helping me bake muffins or smelling coffee and giggling that giggle that Sweet Girl does.
Those are the things she wants to share. We’ve turned our little 9 year old neighbor into an advocate and ally already. ;-) She plans to wear blue head to toe in honor of Sweet Girl.
This does present a dilemma in my own mind because these girls really don’t connect lighting themselves up blue with the damage done by Autism $peaks. How do I tell these children that they shouldn’t because it’s offensive to those of us who know what it’s connected to? That if they come across an autistic individual who would be offended knowing the significance as a self-advocate, it could cause a trigger effect for that person that could last hours or days? How do I justify taking away their excitement to learn more positive things and their desire to educate and not just make people aware but ACCEPTING?
These kids get it, you know… that it’s about accepting now and not just awareness. After all I think that there are probably only 12 people left in the developed world that have never heard of Autism. As a nation, we’re definitely aware. The problem is that as a nation, we’re not educated and we’re definitely not accepting. We can’t even accept disabilities as a whole let alone Autism. We have a self-proclaimed Autism support agency, Autism $peaks, who takes donations and doesn’t put them towards services but towards research that would try to find cures and prevention. We have parents who try to murder their disabled children, and apologists for them who “understand what they’re going through” hoping courts will be lenient and demanding others not judge them. We have comedians making vicious fun of disabled people. We have musicians writing offensive song lyrics against autistic people. We have every day people using the word autistic as a slur and an insult just as they use stupid, moron, idiot, and dumb (all ableist language).
These kids are getting it. This is why I support mainstream education rather than separating the students that have disabilities from the non-disabled students. It’s not just about educating them and telling them in a Do As I Say, Not As I Do situation. It’s about seeing each other as equals because heads up, they are, and treating them as such because guess what, they are. It’s about learning that being different doesn’t mean less, and it doesn’t mean segregation. It shows all of the children, including the children with disabilities, that we ALL have challenges and obstacles and we all need different kinds of help.
It teaches more than tolerance, more than awareness… it teaches acceptance. A quiet, natural acceptance.
A major issue with what April as Autism Awareness Month means is that for the teen and adult self-advocates that are aware and educated about the intricacies of the history of how society treats disabled individuals; that have been through traumatic experiences as they’ve grown up for various reasons at the hands of their parents, peers, education, therapies; how society specifically currently views Autism as a whole; and last but not least the intense spotlight that this “awareness month” puts on Autistic individuals is this:
It’s not the right kind of attention for many Autistics. It’s anxiety inducing.
Donations often go to agencies that are not supportive of Autism at all, nor of Autism Services (Autism $peaks I’m looking at you).
It’s a huge burden to bear to be the face of Autism for an entire month.
It’s a huge burden to bear to be expected to educate people for an entire month.
It’s a huge burden to bear to have to argue with parents who have not accepted their child’s neuro-diversity even if their child is in their 40’s or 50’s.
It’s a huge burden to bear to be expected to “overcome” their disabilities or show them off for others.
It’s an even worse burden to have to defend being Autistic in a world that still wants to cure you and insists that it needs to prevent Autism in others. Autistics around the world feel that if their parents wished they weren’t Autistic, that if they could stamp it out, then they’re also wishing they were stamped out. There is no distinction between their person-hood and their autism.
It’s not fair when parents use this month to spotlight how much they hate Autism, causing Autistics around the world to feel that they are hated. If you hate Autism, they feel you must hate them as well. That’s a reasonable feeling. There is no distinction between their person-hood and their autism.
I can’t say that I disagree.
That’s an awful lot to bear. That’s why at only 12 years old, I’m really not sure that I want to take the joy out of my daughter’s eyes when she sees her classmates wearing blue because her interpretation is that it’s all in her personal honor. It’s Sweet Girl Day tomorrow. I know she’ll ask me to wear blue for her, just as she did last year. I sigh as I write this because I know the social implications, but for my daughter? I’ll do anything. Maybe I’ll wear a multi-colored something.