Autism Awareness, Autism Acceptance

The Marion Town House, Rochester Town Hall, Plumb Library, the Mattapoisett Town Hall, the Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids of Giza, Niagara Falls, The Citadel, the Panama Canal, Shanghai Tower, the Empire State Building, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the International Space Station, and my house. What do these places, and about 7,000 other world landmarks, all have in common? On April 2, they will all be lighting up blue to observe the first night of World Autism Awareness Month.

Today, one in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism – one of those children is mine.

Here we stand in 2017, the year of the 8th annual Light it Up Blue event to acknowledge World Autism Awareness Day, and the 12th year for my son and me on our own journey of autism – the train we can never get off that I lovingly refer to as “The Autism Express.”

On the cover of The Wanderer this week you will notice the autism awareness puzzle piece ribbon tucked into the masthead lit up in blue as our very small, but sincere way of saying “We see you.” And we want the world to see you, too.

Most of my regular readers are familiar with my story, the main character being my now 13-year-old son with autism, and for the past two years I have taken the month of April to talk about our history, our journey, and to spread just a little bit more awareness of autism, striving towards acceptance and inclusion.

For the record, autism is a neurological ‘disorder’ (although now I lean more towards neurological ‘diversity’) that is referred to as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because of the many diverse variations in expression of correlating ‘symptoms,’ individual to each person.

From one area of the spectrum to another, there may be delayed cognitive development, sensory processing dysfunction (for example, extreme sensitivity to touch, light, sound, and an impairment in filtering sensory input), lack of speech or speech delay, difficulty with self and emotional regulation, and other behavioral expressions such as self-stimulating and repetitive movements (stimming), undeveloped social skills and awareness, shortened attention span, gross and fine motor difficulties, and an intense fixation with trains. (OK, that last one pertains to my kiddo).

I list these ‘symptoms’ as sensitively as I can while still fostering an understanding of how autism can affect the individual; however, as awareness of autism has increased over time, acceptance of the neuro-diversity of our fellow humans is still the goal. Words such as ‘disorder’ and ‘deficit’ still figuratively segregate people with autism from the non-autistic population when, as Dr. Temple Grandin said while visiting Old Colony just a few weeks ago told us, “The world needs all kinds of minds.”

So on April 2, I hope you’ll wear a blue T-shirt or maybe screw in a blue light bulb on your front porch for the month of April to join us in saying “We see you” to those whose lives have been touched by autism – autistic people, their parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers, and those who support them in the community – for the world needs all kinds of minds, and more people who are not only aware of them, but accepting of them.

April is Autism Awareness Month, but every day is an opportunity for autism awareness and acceptance.

By Jean Perry


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