Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Social media is abuzz with pictures of businesses that are lit up in blue to show they are “aware” of autism. People are sharing selfies wearing blue. There are pictures of people holding up signs promoting autism awareness. All of this is good.
As the father of a boy who has been diagnosed with autism, I am grateful for this day, but I am aware of the reality of autism EVERY day. I see the struggles my son faces, daily. I see how difficult social situations are for him.
I may not say anything at the time, but I see the glares and sideways glances from children and adults alike when they come across my son. I hear the snickers and “he’s weird” comments when we walk by. I have dealt with people who want little or nothing to do with him because he’s different. I’ve had people say “he just needs to be disciplined”. I know people who get upset because he turned light switches on and off in their house. There are people who don’t want my family in their house because my son will want to explore. He has no intention of breaking or destroying anything. He is curious, like all boys.
I could care less whether you wear blue, change your profile picture to something blue, or share a picture in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. What people wear or share on social media does not truly impact the life of an individual with autism. How you treat those with autism makes an impact.
I care about how you treat my son. I care about whether you want to see the good in him. I care about whether or not you are teaching your children to accept and befriend individuals with autism.
World Autism Awareness Day is a great day of symbolism, however, symbolism without substance is of little or no use to families impacted daily by the realities of autism. I long for people who are willing to get involved in the lives of those dealing with autism. My son, and all others with autism, deserves to be treated with respect and love because he is a human being too. He does not always know how to express his feelings, but that does not mean he doesn’t have feelings.
An autism diagnosis changes a family.
Parents must come to grips with the fact that the life they thought they were going to have is now very different. The dreams we had for our children are different. The fears for our children are constant. The desire for our children to be accepted, loved, and have at least one true friend is always on our minds.
As the sun sets on World Autism Awareness Day 2015, I would encourage everyone to spend time getting to know people with autism and their families. You will be amazed at the impact they will have on your life.
Don’t just be aware, be involved!