#AutismAwareness

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We are blessed to live in a society where freedom of speech is one of our most valued rights; everyone has a voice to which they are entitled to share. However, many times today’s society and the voices shared are led by misinformation, misconceptions, and judgments. Yet voices without knowledge and voices without open-mindedness can be dangerous. While everyone is entitled to have his or her own opinions and beliefs, it must be known that these opinions will be met with counter opinions, particularly when they come at the criticism of others. Sometimes these notions can be forgotten.

 

Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD, is a disorder that impacts one’s social communication and behavioral functioning. It sees no boundaries. It is no more common in any ethnicity, age, or economic standing, and impacts each individual in very different ways. This notion of no boundaries, however, only wavers in the ratio of males to females.

 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that while 1 in 189 females are diagnosed with ASD, 1 in 42 males are diagnosed (cdc.gov). This fact is not to undermine women who are diagnosed with ASD. It is not to say that women are impacted differently or that the impact on women is less important or meaningful. It is simply that, a fact.

What is Autism Speaks? Autism Speaks is one of the largest non-governmental organizations to raise awareness for autism. Per Autismspeaks.org, its purpose is to “change the future for all who struggle with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Funding is dedicated to research on causation, prevention and a possible cure.

While some may struggle with the idea of a “cure” for Autism, as that implies individuals with ASD should be changed, Autism Speaks works to provide support for the field in any way possible. Whether one is looking for educational, behavioral or medical treatment (or even a cure) Autism Speaks opens doors to support whatever an individual or family chooses. Judgment and criticism against this organization, whose only goal is to provide support, is harmful and saddening to those that rely on and appreciate their mission.

 

Who can say that what is right for one, is right for everyone? Take an example of a family with a child whose needs are such that they could never see a future where they are not dependent on the help of others. Who can tell that family not to hope for a more independent life for their child? Until we walk in that family’s shoes, who are we to judge? While differences in opinions should be valued and respected, these differences should also be appreciated.

We should approach this subject with an understanding that Autism Speaks is an important and powerful organization in the lives of many individuals with ASD, and who are we to criticize others for what they need in their lives? It is for them that I ask for open-mindedness.

What’s “Autism Awareness” all about? The United Nations designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. Awareness, having realization or knowledge of Autism, is simply that: knowing about Autism.

The Light It Up Blue campaign observed that the day was developed to “shine a bright light on Autism as a global public health priority” by asking people to wear blue to show support and spread awareness. This was not initiated by Autism Speaks.

Emil Jensen Perez, an individual with Autism, “asked the Empire State Building to light it up blue for Autism in 2008.” Blue light was chosen “as a symbol of hope.” (blog.AutismSpeaks.org/) After this, Perez pushed Autism Speaks for support and today over 100 international landmarks have followed.

Autism Speaks now owns trademark rights to this campaign and utilizes this to spread awareness. It does not require money; it implies no harm. It does not ask for acceptance; it asks for awareness, because without awareness, acceptance is impossible. This is my goal and that of anyone who chose to wear blue on April 2.

What’s everyone else saying? In researching dissenting opinions, I discovered BoycottAutismSpeaks.com. Many statements on this website are controversial and incorrect. While I am open to all opinions, it is important to do research and know the facts before publishing libelous inaccuracies. Autism Speaks does not support the anti-vaccination movement although BoycottAutismSpeaks.com states “the anti-vaccine sentiment of Autism Speaks founders have been well documented.”

According to Autism Speaks and vast research, vaccines do not cause Autism. Given this may still be a concern for some, I do not question this. However, if one believes Autism Speaks supports the causal link between vaccines and Autism, they have not done their research.

Another fallacy I question is the notion that Autism Speaks does not have individuals with Autism on its Board of Directors. Autism Speaks has diversified its Board by appointing Stephen Shorv, Ed.D., and Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D., who both have ASD, to their board last year. Further, numerous prior board members have family members with Autism. For example, Sallie Bernard has a son with ASD. Thus, continued criticism of this organization no longer holds merit.

As a student extremely active in the Intellectual and Developmental Disability (IDD) community at our school, I witness everyday the impact the lack of knowledge has on our students, our peers, our equals and ultimately our friends. I came in hoping for a change that can only be provided by awareness. My goal is never to offend anyone, it is only to help the people I truly care about to live a life free of judgment and hopefully at least attend school without feeling like a fish out of water. I understand that this goal will take time and it is very unlikely to reach everyone; my only hope is that we make even the smallest of difference in at least one person’s life, whether it be an individual with any form of ASD or someone who learns something new, puts themselves into our environment and makes a lifelong friend. Both organizations are working towards the same future, we must find a way to work together.

In trying to find the right words to express why I am so passionate about Autism Speaks and the Light It Up Blue campaign, I discovered this quote from the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.

“On this World Autism Awareness Day, I call for advancing the rights of individuals with autism and ensuring their full participation and inclusion as valued members of our diverse human family who can contribute to a future of dignity and opportunity for all.”

 

More eloquent words could not be spoken.

 

 

To read the #AutismAcceptance column, go here.

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