THE BLOG
04/25/2016 12:36 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2017

2... 4... 6... 8 How Do We Appreciate?

When the clock strikes Midnight on April 30th what happens to Autism Awareness?

Autism Awareness and Autism Acceptance

April is Autism Awareness Month, begun over 25 years ago by the Autism Society of America, a leading grassroots autism organization, existing to improve the lives of all affected by autism. www.autism-society.org

In the late 90's Portia Iverson and John Shestack started Cure Autism Now and made a pledge to use their talents and influence in the entertainment industry to make autism a household word. They did. Cure Autism Now later merged into Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.org in 2005, which is now one of the largest autism organizations in the world, focusing on science and advocacy.

In 2008, Jacqueline Aidenbaum and Juan Carlos Brandt, high ranking employees at the United Nations, spearheaded World Autism Awareness Day. With the sponsorship of the State of Qatar, and the support from Bob and Suzanne Wright founders of Autism Speaks , April 2nd was approved by the General Assembly and is now internationally recognized, encouraging Member States of the United Nations to take measures to raise awareness about children and adults with autism throughout the world. .https://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/%5Btitle-raw%5D-244.

Now hundreds of cities across the globe light their landmarks "Up Blue" on April 2nd to show solidarity of autism awareness.

The journey continued:
In 2011, Paula C. Durbin Westby began Autism Acceptance Month http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/about/, which has expanded to become "a way of viewing Autism in a positive and accepting way."

This year, even Apple is getting into the act with a beautiful video of Dillan Barmache, who uses his iPad to communicate his deep thoughts and brilliance. http://themighty.com/2016/04/apple-short-film-dillans-voice-shares-how-autistic-teen-dillan-barmache-uses-technology-to-speak/

Awareness and Acceptance has led to better early identification and intervention, research, funding, and more accommodations for people with autism and their families.

April has been successful in bringing autism 'out of the closet.'

But what happens after 11:59p.m. April 30th and the clock strikes twelve? What happens when the Sydney Opera House is no longer lit up blue; when bright blue t-shirts have faded; when the media has become "autismed out" and the new autism books are no longer number 1 on Amazon.

What happens May 1st?

Autism Appreciation

As my friend, Dr. Stephen Shore, an adult with autism, international speaker, and Professor at Adelphi University, enlightened me years ago, we need to move away from awareness and just accepting autism towards: Appreciation.

We need to appreciate individuals on the autism spectrum every day, throughout the year. How do we open our eyes to and support the gifts, talents, and abilities of people with autism?

We all have strengths and weaknesses

In my book, Seven Keys to Unlock Autism, http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Keys-Unlock-Autism-Classroom/dp/0470644095, I suggest that we must first accept our own challenges and acknowledge that we all have 'special needs' depending on what environment we are in. We all require different supports in different environments. For me, technology sends me into a funk of confusion and paralysis - I need tremendous support; but when I converse with others on the topics of creativity, philosophy and spirituality, I am in a state of flow and joy. When my son, with severe autism, is in a crowded classroom under fluorescent lighting, he may run around the room hands over his ears, too distracted and dys-regulated to focus. When in the Santa Monica Mountains, he can lead his classmates, effortlessly, on every trail. An outsider watching my son in his classroom would deem him low functioning. In the outdoors, he would be called the leader.

I beg that we all stop using the terms 'high functioning; low functioning" - insisting as Dr. Barry Prizant, author of Uniquely Human, states, "We all have areas of strengths and weaknesses that create our individual profiles. Children with autism just have more pronounced strengths and weaknesses." http://barryprizant.com/uniquely-human

Appreciation means acknowledging and celebrating the strengths and abilities we are all given. My son now works on an organic garden; I teach and coach others in my creative methodologies. If people only looked at my son or I as our deficits, we would feel anxious, alone, disconnected. When appreciated for our assets and gifts, we become active contributors to our society.

By focusing on the strengths of every individual, we have an opportunity to bring out and appreciate the gifts in all. My work with The Miracle Project www.themiracleproject.org has led me to witness transformations when my students are surrounded by love, acceptance and appreciation. A non-verbal student types lyrics to our songs. A student, once too frightened to even walk into a room of her peers, now performs Opera in front of thousands. Families develop deep friendships as they see their children blossom and connect to others.

We need to listen to and appreciate the messages that those with autism bring. The world really is too loud, too frenetic, disjointed, overwhelming. People with autism recoil from this while "Normies" try to cope and make sense of a 'toxic' world.

We need to embrace and appreciate the many gifts, talents of those on the spectrum and to help guide them to meaningful employment and lives. We also need to appreciate the challenges that they and their families experience in a society of disapproving looks and judgments.

To answer this call, my friend Jess Block Nerren, a media specialist and parent to a child with autism who is in remission from cancer, and I have joined forces to create a video which goes deeper to appreciate those on the spectrum. This new video is a quick-hitting segment showing the positive impacts that people with autism have had on those with and with out autism. https://www.facebook.com/Autism-Appreciation-1756915301209242/?fref=ts

We hope to receive videos from others and get this movement going. Asking....

How do you appreciate?

In Joy and Gratitude,
Elaine Hall

MORE: