Once again, we are at the conclusion of autism awareness month. Every April the world is prompted to Light It Up Blue, through a campaign initiated by Autism Speaks to raise international awareness of autism. As a demonstration of solidarity, supporters consumed periwinkle doughnuts, walked in cobalt shoes, and combed sapphire hair.
Throughout the month, many people wear blue as a badge of honor. I applaud their commitment and am moved by their passion. Visions of iconic landmarks across the globe, illuminated in various hues of blue, demonstrate the evolution and vastness of this inspirational quest.
By design I am not an active member of the blue brigade. Certainly, the cause is a noble one, bringing attention to a subject near to my own heart. But for me, this annual commemoration has lost its luster, invoking personal feelings of disappointment and disillusionment.
The harsh reality is that I don’t need to be enlightened about the nuances of autism. My family lives with it every day. Our commitment to autism awareness is not limited to 30 days a year. We are shackled to it for a lifetime. Blue apparel won’t raise my consciousness on an issue perpetually ingrained in my mind.
Instead, educate me about the utilization of millions of dollars raised by major autism not-for-profits annually for research and family services. Despite the efforts and presumably altruistic intentions of these entities, statistics indicate that the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders continues to rise at an alarming rate. And although these organizations have impressive resumés, their endeavors have little impact on the daily challenges my family encounters.
Research for tomorrow doesn’t help my family today. A colleague’s blue shirt doesn’t administer any direct assistance to my child. A celebrity’s tweet doesn’t provide me any respite. Many of our needs are simple – kindness, compassion, acceptance, and inclusion.
My family is fortunate. Our blessings are abundant. I adore my children. We have found encouragement, comfort, and relief in early intervention providers, inclusive sports programs, academic institutions, and community services found in our backyard, not through a global campaign.
Still there are gaps. Families dealing with the complexities of autism spectrum disorders need more. We need you.
Make a difference in a child’s life. Look for ways to assist a family in your neighborhood. Help facilitate a friendship between your typically developing child and a differently-abled one. It may be as effortless as inviting a child to a play date, birthday party or sleep over. We all want our children to be popular. But I also hope my offspring are benevolent, thoughtful, and tolerant.
Extend your hand or lend an ear to a parent of a child with unique capabilities. He or she may only need a sounding board or someone to share a bottle of wine. You can’t imagine how cathartic a few hours of adult time, away from therapies and social groups, can be.
Consider providing financial assistance to local entities, which are assisting families in your own communities. Volunteer your time working with athletic organizations that cater to the unique attributes of those who find it difficult to assimilate on typical sports teams. Patronize businesses that employ differently-abled individuals. Support universities that make it possible for students with autism spectrum disorders to succeed in college.
You have the capability to directly impact the life of an individual impacted by autism. Try it. I suspect your life will be enriched.
Next April please don’t ask why I’m not adorned in blue. I choose not to wear blue, because a part of my soul will forever be tinted blue.