“Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of something.”
“Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest.” – Wiki
Could you accept something that you are not aware of? Could you find acceptance without the ability to perceive or have any awareness of what it is you are meant to accept? This is a question that has been on my mind the last week as I’ve watched Autism communities debate over whether to push awareness or acceptance; whether to Light it Up Blue or Walk in Red.
In the midst of this debate I had heard about MMS via a follower on Twitter. MMS is an extremely harmful ‘autism treatment’ where parents dose their child with bleach pills (or do bleach enemas) that has sadly been around for years. It led me to others that are also still in practice, such as Chemical Castration where the lining is burned off the stomach. It was in this moment that I realized that there was no way we could afford to have acceptance without awareness. People can accept what they are not comfortable with or (in many ways) what they do not know and what the world was unknowingly accepting about Autism through the lack of awareness was devastating.
Most people are aware that Autism exists and that it affects 1 in 68 children. A large majority of those people are aware that it is 5 times more common in boys than it is girls. However, these numbers typically don’t relate to people unless they have a family member or friend with autism and/or are about to give birth to a child. So let me put this into numbers that are are more relatable to a wider audience. In estimate, this year 44,000 children will be born with autism in the United States alone. 1 in 6 children (or 600,000 est.) will be born with a developmental disability; these could be anything from minor developmental delays to autism or cerebral palsy.
That seems kind of frightening with the current picture of Autism, but I want you to consider something. It is entirely plausible that these numbers have always existed and that we are only coming into awareness of them because of increased awareness and diagnostics. There are still people from ages ago being currently diagnosed with Autism because once upon a time they used to put them into the category of Schizophrenia or Mental Retardation. Many children born with these intellectual backdated disabilities were placed into facilities and hospitals under incorrect diagnoses and shunned from society. In fact, by the early 20th Century (1920s) most of those faculties were overcrowded and it only had gotten worse by the 1950s. This led to people being starved to death, horrifically abused and murdered.
Is it possible that our numbers are still steadily increasing as they always have, but instead of locking them all away these people were given freedom?
“disability is a natural part of the human experience that does not diminish the right of individuals with developmental disabilities to live independently, to exert control and choice over their own lives, and to fully participate in and contribute to their communities through full integration and inclusion in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of United States society.” – JFK
This is something that we might never know, but it is something that we should bring awareness to. Autism is (quite possibly) not a medical epidemic, but a societal rise towards our acceptance of neurodiversity.
I imagine it like the news. If you were to go by the news reports it would seem like there was violence everywhere and steadily on the rise, however, the world is less violent than it has ever been. It is only that our technological access has changed the media format and sadly, fear sells.
The same could be said of Autism Speaks who has continually built their foundation on terror. You can see from the video they created in 2009 called “I am Autism” or the Call to Action letter from the Co-Founder in 2013 that their idea of autism is one that destroys families and steals our children. They continually push for funding towards research to cure autism just as you would cancer. And although their propaganda has slowly changed tactics due to the rise of self-advocacy groups, they’ve done very little to change.
Which brings me back to the day I read the twitter post about beaching out autism. This fear has caused and is still causing severe harm that only true awareness and acceptance from that awareness can heal. The autistic community is very vast and there is an extremely diverse spectrum that it compromises of. However, not even the person on the lowest end of the scale deserves to feel as though they are a blight on their family and a scourge on our economy. These very things were what once drove us to shun them and many others with various intellectual incompatibilities into asylums so that families and communities wouldn’t have to deal with them. They earned their freedom a long time ago, but it seems that in so many ways they are still fighting for the equal right to be a person.
When I think of the difference between the current Autism Awareness and Autism Acceptance movements, I think of my son and his little quirks. Right at this moment in his very young years, his insistent clapping is seen as adorable. He can jump around, laugh and clap his little heart out and everyone smiles with him. This is today’s Autism Awareness, when people feel enormously positive about it and stories are shared in abundance of the smiling faces of children. As my son grows older, those smiling faces at his insistent clapping will begin to turn into grimaces. It won’t be cute and adorable anymore; his jumping around and laughing will be seen as inappropriate from teen to adult years. This is today’s Autism Acceptance, when people are unsure about it because awareness seems to end with childhood and the adorable Facebook stories. What is left behind is a sort of muted tolerance.
I don’t believe we can have the sort of acceptance we want for our children and community without a greater understanding or awareness of Autism. I suppose what the world needs is a sort of reawakening of Autism Awareness that includes young adults, adults and seniors into the picture. One that also shares the darker sides of the history of autism and the brighter future that we know is possible because others with intellectual disabilities and differences have already paved the way.
I do not want society to accept Autism in ignorance. I want it to be fully perceptive to what it has neglected for so long, to be aware of both the greater and lessor wonders of it, to see our difficulties and joys as only another spectrum to its’ own and accept it with understanding. For this (in my opinion) you need both Awareness and Acceptance. I want this so that one year when 44,000 Autistic children are born in the United States it is not a cause for alarm, but just another year where children were born. That it be another year where they lived, were loved and accepted as they are. And that it be at a time when they do not have to fear being fed bleach at home, put into restraint harnesses and placed in small concrete rooms without windows at school; at a time when they can be paid an equal wage for work instead of .25 cents an hour and be offered better housing for those that are trying their best to live independently.
For this I honestly think we need to dress in blue, walk in red, spread awareness, spread acceptance and to share the gift that Autism has given so many of us – patience.
What do you think. Can there can be acceptance without awareness?