Awareness is not Enough

Micah Pederson by Micah Pederson Additional Needs

Micah Pederson

Micah Pederson

I am a mom to two children biologically and many children through foster care. My husband and I have been married three years. Our foster home is a...

Autism Awareness Month—the time of the year when the globe seems to explode with multi-colored awareness ribbons and puzzle pieces.

Social media is overtaken by waves of proclamations of support of autistic individuals and their unique journeys.

For those of us who live in the world of autism day in and day out, the month of April can be a time of feeling a bit less alone and a tad more seen. But then the month ends. Slowly but surely, the puzzle pieces and ribbons fade into the background and the next headline-snatching cause sprints into the spotlight.

For many, life returns to normal as if Autism Awareness Month never happened. Unfortunately, that is exactly the case for families who are touched by autism. We go to the grocery store and face the judgmental comments and glares of strangers who cannot (who perhaps do not care to) understand how overstimulating the supermarket is for my daughter. I dare say these judgements are fired by some of the same individuals who stuck an autism awareness ribbon to their social media profile picture only weeks prior.

We attend triggering gatherings where we stand out like sore thumbs and hope we can somehow stay just long enough to check the box and not appear rude. We advocate like grizzly bears against the therapists and professionals whose tunnel visions see “normal” as the only definition of success. We slip into the background where we keep both our battles and our victories hidden from those who choose to remain focused on a label instead of a precious, unique, incredible human.

Yet, the world claims to be aware.

Actually, I believe the world is aware of autism. But as time marches on, I have begun to believe that greater awareness is actually the last thing we need. Does awareness alone actually change anything? While awareness is a wonderful place to begin, the problem is that the majority of the world goes no further. If we truly want to see the world become a place where all are welcome, we must take awareness as a simple first step that leads to acceptance.

You have the capacity to change the climate that individuals with autism and their families experience in society. Once we truly accept those who are different from ourselves--completely separate from our own expectations, norms, and comfort zones—only then can we be a unifying force in a divided human race.

Awareness leads to acceptance and acceptance leads to advocacy.

As humans, we are all created to advocate for those around us—advocate for equality, for unconditional love and acceptance, and advocate for permission to be different. So this year as you see the wave of autism awareness wash over the world, make a point to not allow that wave to stop there. May true awareness, acceptance, and advocacy begin with you this year and be made evident in the way you lavish grace, compassion, and celebration on every human soul.

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