It’s the last day of Autism Awareness Month and it seems we are no closer to awareness, let alone acceptance.
While most people are aware of autism, they are more aware of the stigma and the fear. They are aware of the “link” between autism and vaccines. They are aware that autism is not something you want to deal with yourself. They are aware of the autism “epidemic”. They are aware of how hard autism is on families and how difficult it is to get help and services, driving many to despair, and even worse, murder.
Sadly, people are not aware of neurodiversity and don’t realise autism can present in many different ways. People are not aware that small accommodations in everyday life could make life infinitely easier for autistic individuals and their families. People are not aware that people with autism have untapped potential and just need the right supports to thrive. People are not aware that they already have friends and family on the spectrum, unidentified and undiagnosed.
A story run by Good Morning Britain has revealed just how much fear and misunderstanding still exists in society. They reached out to find pet owners who had decided against vaccinating their pets because of a fear of their pet developing autism. The story itself is irrelevant and beyond silly, but the fact they wanted to run it shows the deep vein of fear and distrust that still runs through the community.
One of my first ever posts, back in 2011, discussed the lasting damage of Andrew Wakefield’s discredited paper showing a link between vaccines and autism. Over seven years on, he’s still out there, making money off a lie, while the rest of the community deal with the never-ending fallout of his falsified findings.
Wakefield played on the most base and powerful of human emotions – fear. He tied together two things that scare parents, vaccine injury and autism, and whipped that fear into a frenzy. It doesn’t seem to matter that his conclusions have never been replicated. It doesn’t seem to matter that he and his report were both discredited. The damage was done. And, that damage continues on, with no end in sight.
Don’t Fear Autism
As a parent to two autistic individuals, a friend to others and a relative to many more, I can tell you, hand on my heart, that autism is not to be feared.
Let’s repeat that again – there is nothing to fear from autism.
If people took the time to look past the scaremongering and see past the sensational headlines, they’d get the chance to see autism as I do. Despite its name (Autism Spectrum Disorder), it’s not a disorder. It’s a different way of thinking, of interacting with the world, of communicating and of being. What’s disordered in that?
Autism has been classed as a disorder because autistic individuals don’t fit the norm and are therefore different from the majority who apparently do. As a minority, their needs are not as important as the dominant majority so, the onus has been on autistic individuals to change and fit in with the rest of society.
In reality, if we made a few small changes, the world would be a better place for everyone and would enable many autistic individuals to live happier and more fulfilled lives.
If we took the time to make the world more sensory friendly; if we used clear language; if we provided specific instructions; if we gave people more time to process information and respond; if we accepted alternate means of communication; and if we took the time to better signpost change, life would be so much better for everyone.
As parents, we all face challenges. Autism can amplify and complicate those challenges but, in the end, we are still parents to our children. They are individuals, with different needs, preferences and tastes, like all kids. Autism is just another part of who they are. On any given day and at any given hour, this can mean they need more or less support, depending on their emotional state, sensory needs and coping levels.
There is nothing to fear in difference. There is nothing to fear in seeing life through an alternate lens. There is nothing to fear in not conforming to the norm.
There are so many other things in this world to fear – intolerance, discrimination, prejudice, abuse and terrorism, to name a few. However, let’s not be consumed by fear of what we don’t understand.
Don’t fear autism.