I’ve been thinking alot about what awareness means, particularly in autism. I saw a good comment the other day on Facebook. Someone had posted a common status about the prevalence of autism and the need for awareness–pretty common among my group of colleagues and friends on Facebook (as the autism world is pretty all-consuming). He had added that he hoped that friends who owned businesses or were in charge of hiring would read this and think about hiring an individual with ASD not because it was a kind thing to do, but because these individuals can be a huge asset to a company and an excellent employee. I thought this was a good twist on an old standard, so I read the many comments people had made. The one that really stuck with me was oh so true and summed up how I often feel about “awareness” campaigns. The comment said, “My sister is aware of autism all year.” Now, I don’t know this person and I don’t know if her sister is a parent of a child with autism or an individual with autism, but the message was clear. And I couldn’t help but feel it too. My family is aware of autism all year too.
I know that people think they can imagine what it is like to have an individual with ASD in your family. But you know what, you can’t truly understand what it’s like to have MY family member in your family just like I can’t truly understand having yours. And if you don’t have an individual with ASD in your family, cut those of us who do a break. It’s not easy, but we are doing the best we can. To me, part of autism awareness is knowing that you probably don’t know what the family is going through. It’s easy to judge how others are handling the stress of having a family member with autism or any other developmental disability, but true awareness is understanding that the impact of autism touches every part of your life. For some of us it shapes who we become. For others it becomes a struggle to avoid having it shape their lives. But it impacts all of us even when we don’t realize it. So as autism awareness month has drawn to a close, I encourage everyone to move beyond the typical awareness stages. Awareness needs to go beyond awareness of the prevalence of autism, the symptoms of autism, and even the cost of autism. Try to imagine the unique impact that autism has on each family you work with and how you can help them capitalize on their strengths in developing their lives among autism.