It’s Autism Awareness Day. April is Autism Awareness month, but today is designated even more singly the “day.”
I don’t know where I land on this. Autism Awareness Day/Month is actually somewhat controversial in the autism community. Some feel that there shouldn’t be focused on “awareness” since it Autism isn’t a “disability” but a “difference.” Others, specifically are anti-Autism Speaks, which leads the awareness campaign.
I don’t know where I stand yet, because I’m newly aware that I’m part of the autism community. I’ve been an oblivious card-carrying member my whole life. It’ll take some time to fully settle in. At that point, I’ll be able to weigh in from a more informed manner.
Right now, I land in the middle, in some ill-defined gray zone. I tend to fight my tendency toward black-or-white thinking. A lot of things aren’t wholly good or bad. I can certainly think of plenty of things that are all bad: racism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, abuse of any type, hate groups, torture, bullying, rape to name a few. Things that are completely good are equally easy to name: love, kindness, learning, compassion, acceptance, peace, etc. As I make these lists, I notice the first things that are coming to mind are intangibles. I’m not sure if this is because I don’t think many tangibles are either purely good or bad, or if it’s just a reflection of how my brain thinks
Anyhow, save for small collections of truly good or bad things, most things seem to have some qualities of each. A lot of times, my own ignorance imparts a pre-judgement bias but once I become informed, I find both sides have some salient points and also expose holes in the other seemingly “right” or “wrong” viewpoint.
I think autism awareness will continue to fall somewhere on the good/bad continuum. It may hover near one extreme, but I doubt it will be one of those truly good or bad things. Autism is now part of my identity and becoming a lens with which to better understand myself. Part of me is glad there is awareness because it may help with earlier and more accurate diagnosis, which could reduce some of the depression and pitfalls I’ve experienced due to lack of self-awareness, understanding, and tools to better facilitate my needs. I’m also glad there’s awareness so people think about differences and invisible battles that some face. Sometimes it is hard to exhibit compassion when someone looks fine and just seems like a weirdo or complainer or an annoyance. From the outside, we are often not privy to the inner struggles or even the “disabilities.” (not the autism is necessary a disability, but I’m speaking in general terms).
From what I know about Autism Speaks, I certainly understand the controversy and the resentment that many people in the autism community feel towards the organization. I feel like that’s also a topic I’m not yet informed enough to attempt to explain. I worry that the funds raised by Autism Speaks aren’t appropriated well and may even go toward research treading way too close to eugenics territory for my comfort and support. Instead of actively boycotting them yet, I personally choose to support alternative autism groups such as the AANE and ASAN.
So where do I end on all of this? I guess that right there is the point: I don’t know yet. I’m very glad for my own relatively recent autism diagnosis because it has increased my awareness about myself and has honestly begun to inform my mindset, decisions, and view of myself and my place in the world. I no longer feel like such a weirdo, an outsider, a mistake, a freak, a loner, an enigma, or worth less than others. I embrace my differences as simply that and look for ways in which I can feel better about myself and my life. I try to reflect on and understand my challenges, and in doing so, if I discover that there are steps I feel that I can take to ameliorate some of the pain or difficulty, I look to taking the steps. I’m also trying to connect more with people of all types, instead of isolating myself to hide my “weirdness.” We all have something positive to offer when we operate with integrity, compassion, and good intentions. How beautiful diversity really is. I don’t want to hide the various colors I bring to the vast and brilliant spectrum in our world. I want to boldly step out of the shadows and be my authentic self and enjoy the richness that I, and everyone around me, radiates when living with confidence, authenticity, and love.