by Sara Costello, Director of International Partnerships at Global Autism Project

Consider the components of awareness events: Acknowledging a population, identifying the markers of a demographic. We talk about the signs and symptoms. We discuss the challenges, and at times, strengths.

But in communities where a population is shrouded in stigma, what use is awareness? In many communities around the world, awareness campaigns have come in, identified their children as autistic, and left. What then can a parent or caregiver do? In communities who already deal with ostracism, awareness can be a curse. What better way to further alienate an individual than to label them with a stigmatized idea. Where awareness comes without acceptance and without resources, many are left worse off than before.

Awareness campaigns have been instrumental in passing legislature declaring that individuals with autism will receive access to the services they need to meet their full potential. Where then, are the services? In communities which are behind in terms of access to training and resources, what good is a law?

Acknowledging a person as different is useless. Accepting them is mutually empowering. How can we shift from acknowledgement to community integration? How can we move from law to possibility?

Individuals with autism are special; they have skills and abilities that are unique. They have a unique perspective of the world. But that’s the different. Why are they the same? How can we include individuals with autism without first separating them?

The question is not what does autism look like. The question is, what’s next? How can we provide meaningful and gainful employment opportunities? How can we push for the least restrictive environment? How can we adjust our world view to allow different in?

So with your porch light on tonight, and your proud blue shirt, think again about the impact of awareness. What steps are you taking to allow individuals with autism to be your peer, coworker, and friend? Is wearing blue helping?

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