Each April I have tried to post one positive autism story a day on my facebook page, not necessarily always a personal one, just as long as it's positive. This year I failed miserable. And it's not because I didn't have any positive stories to share, I very much did, but because I would simply forget to put them up. They would happen, and I'd think "Oh I have to post this one for autism awareness month!" and by the time I got the time to do it, I'd have forgotten.
Not that I didn't post anything. I did manage to splutter out a few throughout April, just not enough to count on two hands. (Maybe there are, I don't really know, as I'm too ashamed to actually look and count them up!) Repetitiveness also proved to be a problem, because as some of you would know, repetitiveness is a common trait in autism, and while the kids might do something cute and worth sharing, they might do that same thing for a solid 30 days, and I'm pretty sure the world would get sick of me going on and on about how my youngest can instantly tell you a car brand just from a cursory glance at the logo. Also what make it is and what country it was from. This one didn't make the cut because it happened when I had to buy a new car this weekend (the family truckster has officially died!) and it was pretty much a trip to Disneyland for her. But I've been so busy getting rego and insurance and eTags sorted out, that I haven't even logged into facebook since it happened. But here it is now for you all to envy! Positive autism story - The Little Miss KNOWS CARS.
What is the point I'm trying to make here? I'm sure there's one if I look hard enough.
It's that I don't want all this autism awareness to focus on the negatives of living with autism. And it is Oh. So. Easy. to fall into that rut. I think we as a species have a tendency to focus on the negative. I remember back when I worked in a salon I was told by my boss "If someone has a good experience here, we'll be lucky if they tell one person. If someone has a bad experience, we'll be lucky if they don't tell a hundred." That applies to almost everything. Think about the amount of times you've complained about something vs the amount of times you've gone out a showered the world with positivity and optimism.
One place that is filled with joy and optimism is Sesame Street, and unless you've been living under a rock you will know that they recently introduced a new character with autism, a 4 year old girl named Julia.
I absolutely had to choose the most Juliest photo of Julia. We autism parents know that far-off-distant look from our own children.
The show has been praised by many for this introduction, but in some autism circles it's also been criticised for not showing Julia in a state many of us have experienced - a full blown meltdown. While they've shown Julia getting upset at loud noise and retreating to a special place to calm down, the don't have her react in what most parents would think typical of a child with autism. The kicking, spitting, biting, screaming meltdown that often comes when they feel discomfort.
But I feel like that is missing the point of Julia. Yes she is here to represent all the children who have autism, but that is hard to do when you are dealing with a spectrum disorder. I always joke if you want to see how far and wide the autism spectrum is, come meet my two! They are about as opposite as two people can get on the spectrum. Both present hugely different issues.
Julia has been presented with some of the more typical traits, such as sensitivity to noise, arm flapping, lacking verbal skills, not socialising in a neurotypical way. But the outbursts so many of us autism families deal with is not there. Because Julia isn't just there to show us how children with autism behave, she's there to teach everyone else around her that autism kids exist, and we need to know how to accept them and welcome them into our world. Not just awareness, but inclusion.
There's been some significant leaps in how people with autism have been portrayed in the media since Rain Man hit the screens. For many years, that was most people's only reference to go on. While we all think our kids are extremely special, I've yet to meet someone that can roll of complex equations like Raymond Babbitt. Not that they don't exist, but savants are very rare. (There is a lot in Rain Man that can be related to. I'm pretty sure at some point I have screamed "Underwear is UNDERWEAR no matter where you buy it!!")
So in comparison, Julia is a more relevant example of what most people deal with, and it is understandable that the last thing Sesame Street would want to do is portray her as someone who kids might be afraid of and try to avoid, by having her throw a full on fit because Big Bird touched her painting or Alan made a noise mixing a milkshake. Baby steps, people. We can tackle those issues one at a time.
Who knows, maybe someone will think to call it autism inclusivity month instead of awareness. Because it's not enough for the world to be aware of people with autism. It's time we included them into our world. Julia is the first rung on that ladder.