We autism parents are all about raising autism awareness. We want the world to know about autism. We want to change the world for the better for those with autism.
But those of you whose lives are not touched by it are all still 'aware' of autism. You have all heard of it. Some may think, "Yeah, I watched Rainman, I know people with autism are genuises." Others may think, "Yeah, that's when they are in a world of their own, and you can't get through to them." Well, technically, those assumptions aren't wrong.
However and it's a big 'however,' those are only a very tiny part of the spectrum of autism. There is a saying in the autism community which goes 'If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.' Every person with autism is different.
Some are non verbal, some are verbal. Some are geniuses with a special talent, some are not. Some give no eye contact, others give great eye contact.
They all have their own personality (yes, people with autism have personalities!) They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. They all have their own unique challenges.They all have their own likes and dislikes and fears and hopes and dreams. Just like you and I. Just like everyone.
The main difference they have compared to people without autism, is that they have to fight to be accepted, as they are, by those same people without autism. Sounds really unfair, doesn't it?
Can you imagine, all your life, people trying to change who you are because you don't fit in with society's image of 'normal'?
Imagine going through life being laughed at and mocked because you are, according to many 'normal' people, weird. Yet all you are doing is being yourself, but it seems like that is not good enough and you must change and be 'normal.' Be like everybody else.
So what exactly IS 'normal.' Who decides?
Society as a whole seems to have a real problem with people who are different. Someone walking along who is covered in tattoos and piercings is pretty much guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of most people because the image is something that is not considered 'normal' therefore this person is very probably about to steal someone's handbag or eat someone's pet poodle. Why is that the case though? Why is different always equated to bad?
So someone who has autism, someone who thinks differently to the majority, someone whose brain makes them see the world differently, has a life often filled with bullying and mockery and being told they must conform and fit in. Why? Why do they have to fit in?
Why do THEY have to change just so that 'normal' people can feel comfortable? Because that is all it is, at the heart of it. It's people who consider themselves this 'normal' who demand everyone should be the same, so they don't feel threatened.
Well, perhaps if this 'normal' part of society educated themselves a little more then they wouldn't feel so threatened by different. Different is good. Different does not mean dangerous. Different does not mean worthless and different most certainly does not mean less.
There are many people, people everyone has heard of who if they were alive today would very probably have been given a diagnosis of autism. Einstein, Mozart and Isaac Newton, to name only three.
Then there are those still with us who are rumoured to be on the autism spectrum. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook, if you aren't aware!) are two of them. So autism has given us many important things in our lives. Why would we want to change that?
Just because someone is different in some way, it doesn't mean they are to be feared or that they are imperfect or abnormal. The world needs different. No two people are the same, regardless of whether they have autism or not, or are tattooed from head to foot or whatever.
Everyone is different. Everyone has strengths and talents that are different to other people. You are not the same as me, I am not the same as you.
So who says what 'normal' is?? Surely normal is living and breathing and being yourself? Surely normal is allowing others to be themselves without mockery or bullying or tuts and sighs and stares? Surely normal is not being the same as the person next to you? So surely, then, we are ALL normal, but with differences?
I too once used the word 'weird' to describe people who were that bit different, who stood out from others, who behaved differently. But since my son Caidan was diagnosed with autism at the age of two (he is almost four now) I have viewed the world in a new way.
I no longer have a fear of 'different' because I know that it can be wonderful and amazing and inspiring and I now know that they are just like everyone else, with their own quirks and their own personalities, just as you and I have.
I see my child fighting to make sense of this world every day and I can only admire him for it. But we can all help people fighting to be accepted for who they are, by simply allowing them to be who they are.
It's easy really, don't you think? Don't be afraid of what you might perceive as different. Don't look down on different and try and educate yourself about different. Remember, EVERYONE is different and that is how it should be. Different is OK. Different can educate others. Different is inspiring. If you allow it to be.
Different. Not less. Never less. You can make a difference to those with autism and many other special needs, by realising that they ARE 'normal,' they are just different from you.
Start today. Don't be the person that makes it hard for others to be themselves.
One in every 100 people in the UK are diagnosed with autism and that figure is rising. Is it really too much to ask people to learn a wee bit about something which has a high chance of touching the lives of someone in their close circle of family and friends at some point? I don't think it is. I hope you don't either.
Be aware. Accept. Educate.
Laura is a full time mum to Caidan, aged four, who has autism. She also has a 17-year-old daughter who no longer wishes to be 'mothered!'
Blogs at: Autism and Other Ramblings