"Hey, everybody, autism exists"--celebrate that you know that? Celebrate autism, a condition that for at least a third of those diagnosed on the spectrum involves crippling disability? "Hey, you can't talk, can't write, can't take of yourself and self-injure!" Yay for that?
I'm not sure what the celebration is really meant to be, as the aims are contradictory:
World Autism Awareness Day shines a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis. WAAD activities help to increase and develop world knowledge of the autism epidemic and impart information regarding the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention. Additionally, WAAD celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism and is a day when individuals with autism are warmly welcomed and embraced in community events around the globe.
By bringing together autism organizations all around the world, we will give a voice to the millions of individuals worldwide who are undiagnosed, misunderstood and looking for help. Please join us in our effort to inspire compassion, inclusion and hope.
I've decided for me, though, it's to celebrate the accomplishments and progress my three incredible children who just so happen to have autism have made over the years.
Today, I celebrate my 22 year old son who has made more progress than any psychologist ever believed he would. He reads, he cooks, and he volunteers at Meals on Wheels! He's sweet and considerate, too. He also has an incredibly hard time holding onto information, gets distracted and consequently lost, and can't spell or do math beyond second grade level, but he's happy and he's built himself a satisfying life that includes service to others.
He's also an awesome cat wrangler.
I celebrate my 10 year old daughter who is exuberant, loves Sponge Bob above all else, and has just begun to really play with toys in an imaginative way and finally begun to ask questions, which have revealed that while she is brilliant and advanced, she also has huge gaps in information we all take for granted, like where her thigh is located and what a traffic light is called (no kidding). She delights in recognizing and pointing out when someone is being sarcastic or using a metaphor, every time she catches it, never failing to make us smile along with her, as she offers her big Sponge Bob grin.
And my Rosie, who gives hugs as presents but refuses kisses, who chews her hair when it's long enough to do so, her clothes when it's not, who screeches like a banshee when something sets her off, but cuddles in my lap for hours.
They face their challenges and issues with humor and courage each and every single day. They fight to overcome or find workarounds for their challenges, and they do it because they believe they can.
Celebrate the potential, the value, the uniqueness of autistic individuals and then get busy fighting to make sure they have the support and the resources they need to reach their potential, to be respected and valued as they are, to have access to appropriate education, to satisfying work, and to safe living, learning, and working environments. They deserve more than one day a year to be welcomed and included.