I know that their challenges are real, and are apparent not only to them, but also to those who live with them and work with them. However, all too often their abilities go unnoticed or under-appreciated, and their contributions to society may be less than they could be if we would do more to enable and encourage them.
April is Autism Awareness Month. I recently asked some young people with autism, “What do you want others to know about autism?” Here are their responses:
- We don’t want sympathy…we don’t want to be mistreated or misunderstood.
- People with autism grow up to be adults. We want to have freedom, to be independent, and to be treated as adults.
- Just because they’re different doesn’t mean people with autism shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions.
- Many people with autism have something in addition to ASD, including anxiety, ADHD, or something else.
- Having autism is not the same as having a low IQ.
Do you hear what I hear in these responses? Autism awareness shouldn’t be about a diagnosis, statistics, or a set of differences or disabilities. Autism awareness needs to be about PEOPLE, who are so much more than a diagnosis. Yes, they also have feelings, dreams, needs, abilities, interests, unique personalities, and expectations…just like everyone else.
Autism Awareness Month is a great time to deliberately reach out to people with ASD to let them know that they are noticed and appreciated for who they are. We can take time to listen as they discuss their interests. We can write a note or Social Story(TM), or create a poster or a scrapbook congratulating them on an achievement, big or small, or letting them know we love them. We can find a way for them to use their gifts in meaningful ways. We can help them learn more about themselves in an effort to develop a healthy self-esteem and self-awareness.
I hope this month will be about PEOPLE AWARENESS, and not just “diagnosis awareness.” We have suggestions for ways you can be involved on our Gray Center calendar at www.thegraycenter.org/calendar. And to all of my friends with ASD, thank you for enriching my life and helping me to become more understanding of others!