Sounds nice doesn’t it? I think most people are “aware”, but very few people understand…and even fewer accept.
And I get why people have a hard time accepting.
It’s because of the one thing everyone in the autism community hates to hear, but is so true…they look “normal”!
People don’t have this issue with someone who has a visible physical disability.
Don’t get me wrong, there are always rude people out there who are intolerant of anything that disrupts their otherwise “perfect” life.
And I understand that there is MUCH more that than can be done to accommodate and accept people with physical disabilities.
At the end of the day however, the average person will not get mad at someone in a wheelchair just because they can’t walk. We don’t expect a blind person to navigate through a strange place unassisted with no eye stick or guide dog.
No, what we do is remove the obstacles and help guide them.
Why Isn’t This True For Autism?
Why is it, that when a kiddo on the spectrum has a meltdown in a store due to so many triggers happening at once, many people look down on that person and shame the parent?
That meltdown is just as real as a paralyzed persons inability to walk or a blind persons inability to see.
The only difference is that you can’t physically SEE their limitations!
This is why it’s so important to go beyond awareness and come to a point as a society where we better understand and accept.
What Autism “Looks” Like
Here’s an example.
John recently had a meltdown in front of his grandpa when we went to visit for a couple of days.
We were all supposed to go do an activity one day that John was excited about. He wanted to go at 9am when the place opened so they wouldn’t be too crowded.
Unfortunately John’s grandpa was still getting over a cold and it took him an hour or so longer than expected to get up and get ready. To be fair, we had not set a solid time, and had just said we would be going the next morning.
That being said, The Boy’s expectations had not been met and of course a meltdown ensued.
John’s grandpa was not happy with the meltdown, nor was he happy with how it was handled.
In his opinion, we never solidly agreed on a time that we would go. He also felt that John shouldn’t be getting mad at him for being sick, and should be understanding of the rest of the families needs.
In addition to that, he didn’t like that the mom didn’t put a stop to John blaming HER for ruining his life. There was more to it than that of course, but I think you can understand.
I get it! And I don’t for a moment blame John’s grandpa for having any of those feelings!
Here’s the thing though, John COULD NOT CONTROL his meltdown!
That was FREAKING AUTISM! Right there in front of you is autism. THAT…that right there!
THAT was the blind person who can’t make his way through the room unassisted without bumping into things. It was the paralyzed person who can’t help it that he’s unable to walk.
Here’s What He DIDN’T Recognize.
John already knew that he was in a situation where he could have a meltdown.
He’s in a strange place, his routine is messed up, he’s overly excited to do an activity. How did he handle all of that?
John talked about the activity the night before so that he knew what to expect. He tried to go early when there would be less people so that he would limit his sensory input, and could better control his self and his environment.
And getting mad at his mom for taking it?
All of the things John did to set himself up for success are things that she and I have taught him to do.
People see the situation as bad, but fail to recognize which parts of it AREN’T bad.
Yes he had a meltdown. On a scale of 1-10 it ranked about a 3.
The other 7 points on that scale that it did not reach are the true testament to how well we have done with John, and how well John has worked on his self.
The situation was handled the way it was because we understand what John is going through.
- He does not want this to happen any more than we do.
- We understand that when things seem their worst, he is trying his hardest to overcome his autism.
- We understand that the best way to help him is to not push him AT THAT TIME. There will be plenty of time to teach and help in the future, but not in the moment.
Here is a man who knows John. He’s been a part of John’s life since he was born.
He hears about John and his autism on a regular basis. He Facetimes him, texts him, talks on the phone with him regularly.
If he had a hard time accepting this one small meltdown after witnessing it first hand, how much harder is it for a total stranger?
Understanding vs Awareness
As I’ve said…I GET IT! And THAT is why it is so crucial that people go beyond awareness and focus on understanding and acceptance.
Let’s face it, it IS hard to accept sometimes….but that’s not a good enough reason to NOT accept it.
We aren’t spoiling John when we celebrate what others perceive as small successes.
We also don’t punish him for autism.
When John is able to get a meltdown under control relatively quickly, and can limit his outbursts to half an hour or so of ranting and raving, those are REAL achievements!
Those are the equivalent of a paralyzed person learning to go up and down stairs without the use of their legs.
They are the blind person learning braille. They’ll never be able to “read” written words because they can’t see, but they WILL be able to lead a “normal” life that is different than you or I.
How Society Can Go Beyond Awareness
Understand that it’s OK to be annoyed, but be accepting.
Know that it’s ok to be frustrated, but be understanding.
I promise you that the kiddo who’s having the meltdown is even more frustrated than you. Not just over whatever is causing the meltdown, but at their own inability to control it.
Sincerely offer support, but don’t be judgmental. And remember, that support might might be as simple as not taking offense if your offer of support is declined.
And finally, read up a little on autism.
Go beyond generic web sites and join an autism page where real people are talking about real issues and offering real advice.
You’ll be amazed at how much a little understanding can change your entire perspective, and their entire life.