A couple days ago, I just now found out that World Autism Awareness Day is a thing. I never understood the point of these things. Honestly, I’m not big on pep rallies. All I see is a bunch of soundbites and feel-good marketing online and on any screen that I saw for that matter. Another recent custom I learned was that blue is supposed to represent autism. It’s just a coincidence that blue is my favorite color, and I’ve never worn it to draw attention to myself. Maybe it’s another coincidence that some autistic also liked that color.
As for awareness, this sounds specious to me as well. If you know someone who projects several autistic traits, you’re aware of autism. The man named “Daddy”in this heartwarming open letter has done more for autism awareness over the course of a three-hour flight than suave-looking rituals and fundraising. If there’s one thing you take away from my work on this, just know that being able to engage these children and adolescents will get you pretty good results. I know that’s helped me with different adults, whether in my family, their friends, and some teachers, who could see my gifts as a kid.
These talking points sound a lot like cancer diagnoses. Not by consequences and treatment, of course. While Relay For Life sounds great at first glance, the American Cancer Society who sponsors it rates poorly on Charity Navigator. I find it interesting that Relay For Life’s mission statement uses broad terms such as “dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.” But according to a study from the Department of Health and Cancer Research UK, there are as many as 10 different strains of breast cancer. I wonder how many other strains of other cancers exist, such as lung, pancreatic, bone, sarcomas, prostate, and colorectal…you get the point by now. It’s also worth asking if medical researchers dedicate their professional careers to narrowing their focus to each specific type of cancer, and if they deal with each strain, or just specialize in an individual strain.
All I’m saying is that I was aware of what cancer was on my eighth birthday when my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare type of cancer that attacks the white blood cells and has a life expectancy of six months. (He lived seven more years. I’ll have more to say about him in the future.) If that’s not enough, I became more aware of it when my mom, dad, brother, sister and I sat around the Shabbos table one somber Friday night when I was 11 and Mom shared that she would need surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. She’s been cancer-free for more than 15 years. Go Mom. Even if you’d prefer to handle your problems internally instead of calling attention to yourself. I’d say that helped me try to figure out my own problems even if I didn’t find a good answer on my own and needed to be nudged by someone else.
And that’s the thing. We as a society didn’t know much about autism or Asperger’s when I was little. Still don’t, to be honest. I’ve wondered many times how my dad knew what button to push and how my Grampa knew to have patience and explain many different concepts to me when I was little. I’ve had countless other adults, including my mom and many family friends who were able to talk to me as an adult even when I was young. There are a lot of important lessons I learned in childhood therapy, and I’m hoping to try to pass the baton to others and talk to others who had similar developmental obstacles. I will not sit on my hands and run the risk of having so many individuals feeling they are disabled. I won’t accept this mindset in my life. It’s a complicated obstacle course, not a disability, and I’ll say it until my face turns blue.