5 reasons why Autism Awareness is still important
I have noticed in the Autism community, more and more autistic adults and parents feel that awareness is not as important as before. Some have the perspective that the world knows what it is and that it is time for action and acceptance. I agree that it is time for acceptance, however in some contexts there are people who do not know what Autism is and that is what I would like to talk about here, why I think that awareness is still valuable and necessary. I can only speak from my experience, I can not say I am an all knowing expert that holds the true perspective. I am only sharing my experience and presenting some ideas as to why I think Autism Awareness continues to be important and why it should be talked about all year round and not just in April.
The five reasons why I think we should still spread Autism awareness are
- For the people that do not know what is it.
- For the communities who do not have access to certain resources.
- To help work towards the prevention of harmful misconceptions and false ideas of what Autism is.
- With a better understanding comes a better chance at acceptance.
- For the children and adults who can not tell their loved ones what they are going through.
For people who still do not know
I worked with autistic children for almost four years in Cape Town, South Africa and what I began to realize is that there were so many parents, teachers, educators, care-givers and other individuals in that context that did not know what Autism was and because of this, dangerous and hurtful misconceptions emerged regarding Autism. I will discuss some of these below however this made me realize that in contexts such as these awareness is very necessary and it is needed in order for there to be acceptance. An example, that I will never forget was when I attended a talk in an impoverished area where the parents had little to no resources.
For communities who do not have certain resources
A mother spoke up and told us that she thought her child was possessed but after speaking to us she began to realize that, it might not be the case. Her child was self harming and banging his head against a wall (literally and figuratively) because he was living in a household that did not know what his needs were or why he was non-verbal. It was not his Mother’s fault, it was the context in which she grew up and lived in which had no previous exposure to or awareness of Autism. This example for me emphasizes why awareness is so important especially in these types of communities and for the children who can not tell their parents what they are going through.
I would like to go over the definition and what it is to me from my experience and why this is so important to me. The clinical definition is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with communication and social interaction. At Daliland we have a different perspective. Whether you are Neurodivergent or Neurotypical we all share characteristics that are used to describe people on the Autism spectrum such as sensitivity to loud noises, smells, tastes or textures. However for someone on the spectrum these are either heightened or lessened or a combination (hypersensitive/hyposensitive).
Autistic children or adults live in a world that does not accommodate these sensitivities and that is why they are seen as different. When you really know and understand Autism and someone on the spectrum you begin to see why, you do not see them as “abnormal” as society depicts but rather you begin to understand why and even though you will never truly know what it is like, unless you are Autistic yourself, you can only try to comprehend what they are going through or how they are experiencing the world.
However, for the autistic readers I would like to mention before I continue that I am aware that some may be offended by this breakdown as it seems to make a comparison between Neurotypicals and Neurodivergent people which may diminish their struggle. I am not trying to do that, I know there is a divide in the Autism community about this, some say Autism is not a disability but a different ability and to others this description diminishes their struggles and adversity they have faced every day for their whole lives and do acknowledge their diagnosis as a disability. I believe whatever you feel, is true to you and no one can tell you otherwise.
We view Autism as not a disorder but as part of the human spectrum that shows examples of different wiring. Some people are wired differently (Neurodivergent) as this diverts from the “norm” or what society has defined as ”normal” and this definition only exists because we live in a society that does not accommodate the needs of Neurodivergent people (I know there are people out there working very hard to change this). This idea that Autism or Neurodivergent “abnormal” needs a shift, we need to work towards a world that caters to both Neurotypicals and Neurodivergent people. So that everyone is seen.
To help work towards the prevention of harmful misconceptions and ideas of what Autism is.
So that is also why I think that awareness still remains relevant and important for the people who don't know, for the people who are not aware and for the people who believe the myths out there surrounding Autism. Some examples of these include:
- It is caused by vaccines.
- There is something wrong with Autistic children and Adults.
- It needs a cure.
These myths are a few of the misconceptions that exist and are very harmful . They create a different kind awareness one that is negative and dangerous. After working so closely with children and their families I saw how a lack of awareness and the development of these harmful misconceptions had such an impact on their daily life. For us to say awareness is not that important anymore is possibly overlooking this.
Maybe in first world countries where people have more access to the internet, education and basic resources, they are more prepared for action but what about the rest of the world? We need to consider all Autistic people and communities, not just the ones, in countries where internet access is not seen as a luxury.
So even though I agree that it is time for action and acceptance -as mentioned above- without the awareness, acceptance can not take place, people can not accept what they do not know, even then sometimes acceptance is hard but helping people understand and try to see through the eyes of a Neurodivergent child or adult takes us one step closer to acceptance.