I have interviewed many parents about their experiences raising their autistic child and continue to be shocked about the treatment these families receive from other people. One Mom with an autistic son told me they were asked to leave by their church. A group of members approached the minister and told him that if her family didn’t leave, they would. She and her husband were pulled out of the service and asked to collect their son from the daycare and leave. Really?
This is just one of many unbelievable stories I have heard. Many parents tell me about the judgement they receive from people nearby in restaurants and grocery stores. Some will even speak out and tell them that their child needs a good spanking.
These responses are generated by a misunderstanding on the part of bystanders about what they are actually witnessing. These judgmental attitudes and comments emerging from ignorance can deeply upset individuals with autism and their family members. Some autism families become isolated because of the fear of going out in public. Many autism families are isolated from friends and family once their child gets the autism diagnosis because those family members and friends don’t know how to respond to their child.
National Autism Awareness Month (April) was created to spread more awareness about autism and through that awareness create more acceptance. While there is a lot of focus on creating acceptance for people’s right to choose how they see themselves in the world, on differences in ethnicity, on accepting religious preferences, and a myriad of other things, we need to do a better job at recognizing and accepting those who have autism. As humans, we all need to feel accepted and understood.
Autism is much more common in today’s society. With the numbers increasing annually, the Centers for Disease Control has stated that one out of every 44 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It is easy for children with autism to feel isolated and lonely without acceptance and understanding. Rejection from family and peers can cause negative emotions that are difficult to handle.
Greater awareness will bring about better understanding which will lead to more acceptance. If more people had read or seen something about autism, maybe they would not make negative remarks when encountering an autistic child in the middle of a meltdown or loudly experiencing joy in the moment. They would better understand that the reason the child was behaving in such a manner and in the case of a meltdown may not be due to poor discipline or teaching, but due to his senses being overwhelmed.
Hopefully they would have acted differently and offered help to the family instead of negatively judging the moment. They would realize that, while autism isn’t necessarily in their home, it’s in their community. It’s not something to fear, gawk at or make fun of. It’s hard to deny that once you meet some of the amazing people who are on the spectrum, they’re actually quite magnificent people.
Increased awareness has helped autistic children in many ways. Some of the ways these awareness efforts have helped children with ASD are:
- Early recognition of symptoms leading to earlier diagnosis
- Improved acceptance and inclusion for people with autism
- Decreased bullying and exclusion
- Greater support in schools, and at home
- A better understanding of ASD in communities.
- Better integration of people with ASD into communities, jobs, etc.
Public awareness eliminates stereotypes and misunderstanding and serves as a form of emotional support for parents and caregivers.
We can all help create an accepting environment that will help all children feel safer and create the ability to interact and understand each other through awareness.
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