We are in the midst of World Autism Awareness Week. The week ends on World Autism Awareness Day, which is the second day of World Autism Awareness Month. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of awareness going on. But I tell you, awareness is not enough. There needs to be a model that starts with awareness, continues with education, followed by acceptance, and ending up in inclusion.
Awareness is a great thing. That means you know something exists. It doesn’t make you engaged in anything. It doesn’t make you a better person. There are a lot of people that are aware of things that do nothing with that awareness. You get an average person that ignores it all together. Then you get a celebrity that will throw money at it and put on a good face in public. We must go past awareness.
Education is a huge component in this model. Many people will shun an autistic person because they are not the same. This is called xenophobia. It is common for xenophobia to arise out of lack of knowledge. You don’t know about this person that is different than you, so you want nothing to do with them. We must educate people about what it means to be autistic. We must be willing to try and educate without antagonizing. People will learn at their own pace. People will learn if they choose to. You cannot control this outcome, you can only provide the information for them to use.
This is the next big step after education. Once someone understands you as an autistic individual, then they have the capacity to begin to accept you for who you are. I have various people in my life who are at different levels of acceptance. All I can do is stay consistent in my message and be patient.
A natural growth from acceptance is inclusion. Once people can understand you and accept you, they are often more willing to include you in things. They are willing to make adjustments for you. However, don’t stop the education process. I like to give the example that how an autistic brain thinks versus a non-autistic brain is like two different languages. You may be able to learn the language, but you will not always understand it.
(As a point of order, this model is a good one to follow for all different groups of people. Give people an opportunity to know you and understand you.)