It’s April, again. Autism Awareness Month. What are the numbers now? A few years ago, autism occurrences were estimated at 1 in 88. That’s looking almost common, rather than unusual.
Well, folks, it’s time we start learning about each other, neurotypical or on the autism spectrum. Even under the old numbers of 1 in 166, the estimates indicated so many children and adults with autism that “normal” needed redefinition.
Awareness, people, is not enough. Awareness is a low form of knowledge, and knowledge itself sits down low at the base of the learning pyramid. Awareness means knowing that the student sitting next to your child in class might have autism. Knowledge and understanding come around when that child responds to gestures of friendship, perhaps awkwardly, yet making a step toward joining the social peer group in some way.
Awareness? Awareness means slapping a multi-colored puzzle-design ribbon magnet on the back of the family minivan. Understanding means that when the minivan next to yours at the red light is moving back and forth propelled by the rocking of the teenager in the front seat, you notice but don’t judge. You might offer an understanding smile to the driver if the opportunity comes up. By refraining from negative comments, a parent provides a role model for the rest of the minivan passengers. Parents can take it to the next level by explaining to the others in the car pool why it’s so important to be supportive of others, neurotypical or autistic or with no label at all.
These days, with a dangerously unqualified Secretary of Education and a potential Supreme Court justice who has ruled against students with disabilities multiple times, awareness can go to…well, anyway, awareness is nowhere near enough. During this year’s Autism Awareness month, make a vow to move beyond awareness into the category of understanding – or better.