Autism Awareness Day is around the corner. In fact, it’s April 2, 2011, with the entire month of April dedicated to Autism. There’s a world wide movement to shift Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance and Understanding. You can read more about that here.
With thousands of participants, the exact numbers unknown, and unfathomable, Stuart Duncan, one of the participants in the event has taken a moment to talk about Autism Understanding and Acceptance, what it means to him, and what it could mean for our children.
April 2nd marks the first coordinated, world wide movement to shift Autism Awareness to Autism Understanding and Acceptance. Is this the first time you’ve participated in an event of this magnitude? If not, what other events have you participated in that have had a similar reach?
This is definitely the largest. Anything else I've ever been involved with always had some geographic limit to it, such as a community event, or even when helping with Autism Canada. It's a Canadian thing.
But with the Autism Understanding and Acceptance project, it's global. When it started out, it was just an idea but as charities and organizations around the world began to support the idea, it grew very large very quickly.
What does the AUA Campaign mean to you?
For me, it's the next logical step beyond awareness. When I take my child out to the store or other social setting, we get the glances, stares and under their breath comments... and I can't help but wonder to myself, how can this be if we've done so well at raising awareness.
Finally it dawned on me, it's because awareness helps you to recognize the existence of the disorder but not to know anything about the disorder itself.
The goal of AUA Campaign is to help those, that are willing to listen, to finally be more than just aware of Autism.
What part of Autism do you believe you’ll be writing about?
I will be writing about my incredibly amazing child that most people will likely never get to know because of their lack of understanding. How my son can join a class of other children doing a physical activity and try harder than anyone despite looking the most awkward. For all his efforts all he'll get is judgments and staring.. or worse, bullying.
What’s your idea of the number of participants in the event?
Well, the fan page has almost 1700 fans but that's just a small part of it. Over 20 charities/organizations have put information on their site or emailed their contact lists in an effort to get people on board. Some of those charities have over 1 million contacts.
It's impossible to really tell as it's a very broad request... people are to submit their own stories to their own places, as they see fit. To share with the media, their own blogs, Facebook... whatever. So there's no real way to ascertain any real numbers.
But even if only one person did it, and only one person read it, and only one person learned something.. it will have been worth it. So the fact that there are so many more involved is extremely encouraging. This is making a real difference.
Who does the event include?
Everyone. There's no group too large and no individual too small. Everyone has an equal voice and an equal stake in its outcome.
No one charity is sponsoring or organizing the campaign, no one person get to decide exactly how it is to happen or what the wording of people's letters should be.
It's a community effort and only with everyone having a say can it be truthful, honest and without fault. Yes, there are over 20 charities / organizations lending their support and help but they range in size from nationwide to city groups and none are more or less important than the other.
Do you know of any other ways the AUA word is being spread other than writings online?
I have seen a few Youtube videos already made, some people are sending in their stories to local newspapers or television stations.
I've also seen a few Facebook "notes" that some parents have written and in them, they include wonderful pictures of their children. It's great to see such proud parents.
What is your hope for the day of AUA?
The AUA campaign has 2 goals, relating to each other. The first is that the entire Autism Community can come together for one day to all agree and all share the same message at the same time. The second is to share that message to tell the world that awareness is not enough, that we want Autism Understanding and Acceptance.
Hopefully if the media and governments around the world see that we can all be a strong and united voice, they'll begin to see just how large and powerful we really are. If that happens, they'll have to stop ignoring our needs for better funding and support.
If we're lucky, we'll also educate those people that are willing to listen and be informed and if that should happen, then there will be more programs, more teachers willing to have patience with "trouble" children, more employers willing to hire and find suitable jobs for adults, more manufacturers willing to make better sensory safe products and less harmful foods.
If people cannot only understand but accept that these needs exist, that these people need their acceptance in order to live confidently and independently, the world will be much more accessible to more people with Autism.
This is first year of AUA. Do you think it will continue next year?
Yes I do. I've learned a lot from this first year and had many great ideas brought to me from some companies as well as individuals just wanting to make it better.
There will be much more structure, much more information and a clearer purpose with detailed goals.
This, being the first year, and by its very nature, is very obscure. People aren't really sure what is required of them or what the outcome will be and to be honest, neither was I in the beginning. But now it has gone so well and everyone has been so very supportive, we can continue further with much bigger and better plans.
What is your long term hope for AUA?
One day, I'd like to see people stop fighting. Not stop arguing, but stop fighting. I'd like for the people to realize that we are all a part of one community, advocating for the same things. The AUA may simply be a goal to bring people together for just one message on just one day but I think that's a good first step.
I'd also like to see charities and organizations working more closely together, sharing resources and findings so that far more advances can be made than any one of them could ever achieve on their own.
On the home front, I'd like to be able to tell a stranger that my child has Autism and not have them say "oh, that's too bad" or worse yet, ask me "what is that exactly?"
I'd like for people to stop judging a child and their mother at a grocery store when the child has a meltdown due to sensory overload... not because the world is a better place but simply because those people have a little more understanding a lot more acceptance.
Please say anything else you’d like about AUA, autism or your family.
If you read a letter from someone this April 2nd, Autism Awareness Day, telling you that awareness is not enough, please read it through. It is written by someone that is reaching out to you with their most personal feelings and needs.
Every letter is different. Every letter is unique. The only way you can truly know what Autism really is, is by reading the stories of those affected by it. Only then can you truly know just how wide of a spectrum the symptoms and severity levels can truly be.
If thousands of people share their stories, only then can you begin to see just how unique each and every person with Autism truly is... and only then can you see just how similarly they all feel as though they don't fit in due to lack of understanding and acceptance from everyone else.
Autism is not a disease. Autism is not something to be feared. For some people with Autism, a little understanding and acceptance can mean the difference between never leaving home and having a fully independent life.
For more information on how you can participate in this shift, please visit the Autism Understanding and Acceptance Facebook Fan Page.