Autism awareness month can be challenging for many of us who are on the spectrum. A large amount of it centers on non-autistic people talking about what to do about us, and a large amount of the publicity is created and focused around Autism Speaks and their “light it up blue” initiative. And both the organization and the initiative itself can be seen as controversial for reasons that aren’t really as important as the effect.
For many of us, autism awareness month is a period of time where we hear people talk about an “epidemic” that needs solving. We hear people who know almost nothing about what it means to live as an autistic, talking about how important it is to raise “awareness.” But awareness doesn’t even begin to offer people clues about realistic things that can be done to improve the situation. And we all know that when the month ends, most of these individuals will spare hardly a thought about autism for another year.
On the other side, however, autism awareness month has resulted in millions of dollars being raised toward research into both therapeutic and biomedical approaches to autism that have changed the lives of thousands, if not millions, of individuals for the better. The “light it up blue” initiative both paints autism as “something that mainly affects boys,” leaving women struggling on the spectrum to feel left out and “not as important” and also reminds millions that autism is something affecting all of us, as monuments around the world turn blue for a day or an entire month.
Autism awareness month, like many things, is a mixed blessing. We don’t suffer from autism one month out of the year, and our struggles aren’t improved by the simple fact of people knowing about us or giving money to research. We’re real people, living in the real world, trying to get by day to day.
World autism day gives us the chance to have a voice. News organizations are willing to have us on to talk about it. Right now “autism awareness” largely means “awareness that it exists.” We have the chance to change that into “awareness of who we are” and I’m hoping this year and the coming years we’ll see more and more autistic voices welcomed to the conversation that we have each year about what autism is, and what can be done about making people’s lives better.
Thanks again for reading.