Friday, March 29, 2013

The Blues

Autism Awareness Month is upon us, just on that far side of Easter. With comes the Light It Up Blue campaign, bringing awareness to anybody who is actually paying attention or cares even the slightest bit about why your porch light is blue all April, and no other time.

I have noticed that the autistic adult community is a little torn about Light It Up Blue. There is a gambit of feeling towards it, from antipathy to appreciation. I can't please everybody- nobody can. But will I light it up blue?

Yes, I will.

Changing my light bulb actually started conversation in our neighborhood, especially since I was not alone in doing it. I think some of our neighbors were genuinely surprised to see so many porches go blue for April. They wanted to know what was up. And once you get someone to talk, you can get the reins of that conversation and start some folks thinking.

For me, it isn't about Autism Awareness. It is about Autism Understanding.

Many folks in our town know Joey, and they know he is autistic. Few know what that really means. They are surprised to find he loves to be around people, and loves to talk to people. They are surprised to find he is intelligent and observant. He laughs, he chats, he pretends. Part of the surprise is how many "autism awareness" campaigns teach people to look for kids who are aloof, withdrawn, or even violent. Kids who burst into meltdowns at the drop of a hat, who make weird noises, who flap their hands, who don't talk at all- those are the kids many of these campaigns push into the public eye. Any of these things can apply to a person with autism. Or not.

Seizing a campaign like Light It Up Blue and using it as a tool is an important way to educate the majority of folks out there, who have no clue what it means to be autistic. The majority of folks who have no clue even what it means to care about or be a person with special needs or disabilities. I always go back and think, what were my attitudes and opinions before I knew Joey? How do I get people around us to understand? How do you remove ignorance (the only real was to remove fear)?

If my blue light bulb makes even one person stop and think, stop and ask, stop and understand, then that is one more than had done that yesterday. It's one step beyond just awareness. It's one step closer to understanding being the norm.